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Week’s End Notes (32)

Cuyhoga River in Winter - Kent Ohio
A view of the Cuyahoga River just over a week ago. Would you believe I took this from a busy bridge facing downtown Kent? It’s all about the framing…!

I feel as if I’ve been shamefully neglecting the blog. Neglecting reading other’s posts. It’s a Sisyphean task, that–keeping up with everyone, everything. Especially when I already have the feeling of being underwater elsewhere, at work most especially. I keep plodding away at the reading, though, my Sunday morning reading the one constant. I’m only one week behind (and intend to catch up) on the Deal Me In Challenge. I finally finished Chronicles of Avonlea, which happens to be a short story collection, and which I believe I actually started over a year ago (maybe even in 2015!). Yet I feel as if I’m moving quickly nowhere. Perhaps the long list of unblogged books bogs me down. So many I don’t even properly remember now, not well enough to write about. And perhaps that is why I’ve written nothing.

But I’ve had enough of feeling their weight on my shoulders. Somehow, I’ve managed to dash off a few short posts here this afternoon. Those will be forthcoming. And for those I don’t feel I can prepare a proper post for (but those I still wish to say something about), a few thoughts:

His Last Bow – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Scotland, 1917)

A collection of Holmes stories I read last fall on vacation. A diverting read, though I fear that I don’t remember the stories that well.  This leaves just one collection left and I will have finished all the Holmes stories!

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (Britain/Zimbabwe, 2015)

The publicity surrounding the movie prompted me to pick this one up. A psychological thriller, I found it much more unputdownable than Gone Girl, but I didn’t feel the need to run out to see the film version. Though I did like the end much better.

Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt (U.S., 1975)

On learning of Natalie Babbit’s death late last year, I immediately had to pick up Tuck Everlasting for a reread. I had last touched this one in late elementary school, and so both found that I couldn’t remember the story and yet it was completely familiar. A sweet story of a young girl who accidentally meets up with a family who has drunk from the fountain of eternal youth, it is in a way a touching meditation on death and life and the consequences of immortality.

She folded her arms and nodded, more to herself than to Winnie. ‘Life’s got to be lived, not matter how long or short,’ she said calmly. ‘You got to take what comes. We just go along, like everybody else, one day at a time.’ (Chapter 10)

Although I read it as a nostalgia piece/for my Children’s Classics project, Tuck Everlasting could also be assigned to my Reading Ohio project, as Natalie Babbit was originally from/grew up in Ohio. It’s also a nice segue to add a little reminder that the 5th Classic Children’s Literature Event is coming up in just a couple weeks! I’ve already a collection of books waiting for me temptingly…

Happy Reading!

Purple Orchid in Full Indoor Bloom
Who says winter isn’t growing season?
Classic Children's Literature · RAL · Reading · The Classics Club

Coming Soon: Classic Children’s Lit Event, 5

2017-ral-original

I’ve been more absent from here lately than I’d like–it seems like February is just a month that I don’t get along with. But now it’s March, the sun is shinning (and it’s supposed to be half-way warm this week!), and that means the 5th edition of the Classic Children’s Literature Event is just around the corner: April–less than a month away! I can’t believe this is the 5th year.

alice-original

As in years past, I will be reading an optional readalong title. I really waffled over what to pick this year, but finally opted for one of the runners up from last year’s poll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s been many, many years since I last/first read this–I believe in fourth grade, so I don’t remember it all that well other than that’s is odd, something that must surely appeal to many, as evidenced by the recent movie adaptations (confession: I haven’t actually seen them). Although I have an illustrated version that also contains Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, I decided to pick up The Annotated Alice from the library. Still a coin toss as to which book I’ll read from.

Event Basics

  • During the month of April, read as many Children’s Classics as you wish and post about them on your blog and/or leave a comment on the event page on this blog. I will have a link page starting the first of April to gather posts so that we may share as we go.
  • The optional RAL title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. (Optional: also read Through the Looking-Glass. I’m guessing I won’t get through both.) I plan on discussion the weekend of April 21-23.
  • I’m not going to be the “children’s classics” police. Use your own judgement for what fits the category but if you want some guidelines, these are what I’m going by:
    • I think many of us have read more recent children’s books that we may already deem “classics” (for example, many people feel that way about the Harry Potter books), but for this event, I’d prefer if we read books that were written prior to 1967. This will still allow a lot of options, and will hopefully avoid the “but what is a classic” dilemma! (And yes, 1967 is rather arbitrary. Rebel if you wish, but 50 years old seems a good age.)
    • Defining “children’s,” especially prior to 1900 or so can be a challenge as some books we think of as “children’s” today may not have been intended that way at the time. Personally, I’d say books appropriate for approximately an elementary-school aged child or preteen (to read or to have read to them) should be fine. I’d personally also count the various fairy tales, even though some of the earliest versions were not exactly family friendly.
    • Feel free to include books from any country, in translation or not. I have limited exposure to non-American children’s lit, so I’d love to learn about books from other countries myself.
    • Feel free to double up with other events or challenges if you wish.
  • And if you need ideas I posted
  • There is no deadline for joining or participating (other than, of course, the end of April).

Most important: Have fun!

Please let me–and other participants–know in the comments of this post if you are interested in participating, and let me know if you have any questions. Also, please feel free to use any of the event/RAL images on your own blogs.

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 300px

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 250px

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 200px

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland RAL April 2017 300px

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland RAL April 2017 250px

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland RAL April 2017 200px

Happy reading!

Participants:

Image sources: The event logo illustration is “Merry Christmas” from The Way to Wonderland (1917, Mary Stewart), illustrated  by Jessie Wilcox Smith (1863-1935). The RAL logo illustration is from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865, Lewis Carroll), 1907 edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).

Classic Children's Literature

Open to Suggestions – Children’s Classics

Yellow Rose Bouquet
Happy Valentines Day!

I’ve long had pleasent memories associated with Valentines Day, although these are the memories of childhood rather than more mature associations. My mom would always–still does, actually–make frosted heart cookies, double stacked–yummy! My brother and I could always, growing up, count on a chocolate heart or a small bundle of wrapped chocolates from the local candy shop. And for several years, a new paperback as well. I still have my first copy of Pride and Prejudice, which arrived on Valentines of 8th grade. (Though it is considerably more visably battered now.) Before that, it was always a YA or Middle Grade book, almost always award winning. My mom has good taste.

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that on Valentines Day, my thoughts always turn to favorite books. This year I’ve been thinking about the upcoming Classic Children’s Literature Event (April! Just around the corner…), and when not panicked about getting my act together to get ready, I’ve been musing over what to suggest as a readalong title. And I must admit, nothing in particular is really calling to me this year. Sure, I have a great long list (and if pressed today, I would say the Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, which have the advantage of being available in an English translation online), but I just haven’t settled on the right book. So I’m throwing it open to suggestions: is there a children’s classic (at least 50 years old, please) that you would love to read–either for the first time, or revisiting–this year? I’ll take suggestions until the end of the month and announce the RAL title at the start of March.

Happy Reading!

Reading

Completed: The Grey King

Cover: The Grey King by Susan Cooper The Grey King
Susan Cooper
1974, England

I’ve been slowly revisiting The Dark is Rising Sequence over the past year and a half or so, inspired to reread this favorite childhood series by my reading of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. (And after I started my reread, I learned that she was indeed inspired by Cooper’s work.) I haven’t been blogging about these for the most part, but since I’ve included the last two on my 15 Books of Summer list, I thought I’d write up just a little bit.

The series in general–five books in all–is inspired by Arthurian legend, but set in the present day (roughly 1960s/70s, when it was written, though it really doesn’t feel that dated and could equally be now). The first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, was a grail quest, as the three Drew children sought to retrieve the Hold Grail before a group of adult adversaries can. It ends with the Grail in a museum and the tantalizing suggestion that maybe The Merlin has been helping them along the way. And there, I understand, Cooper originally intended to leave it. It was only some years later that she added on the other four books, to round out a series depicting a great battle between the Light and the Dark, a battle ongoing since at least the time of the great King Arthur. The books from this point bounce between protagonists: Will Stanton, the last (and youngest) of the Old Ones, is introduced in book two, The Dark is Rising, where he must search out and retrieve the six signs by Midwinter’s Night. In book three, Greenwitch, the Drews return as protagonists, when they “happen” to meet Will in a small town in Cornwall (the setting of the first book) where they must rescue the stolen Grail back from the Dark.

The fourth book, The Grey King, returns to Will’s point of view. He has been sent to Wales to recuperate after a severe illness. While there, he meets a strange boy, Bran, and Bran’s dog Cafall, and discovers that he will need their help in retrieving a lost gold harp meant to wake the “six sleepers” whose aid the Light will need in their upcoming battle against the Dark. Over the course of the story, Will and Bran will also learn the surprising backstory to Bran’s arrival in Wales and that Bran’s help may be needed for more than finding the harp.

Although commonly classified as fantasy, The Dark is Rising sequence has long felt to me more akin to the myths and legends of long-gone times: of King Arthur, of Brenin Llwyd. Perhaps, in our cynical, rational age, this is a fine distinction. After all, we know that magic doesn’t exist–at least not as defined in fantasy tales. But when I find myself considering what book might most naturally follow next after these, it is the old legends and stories I think of, not more contemporary writers. Cooper, by drawing in bits of stories she only borrows, pushes me towards seeking out stories I don’t yet fully know. And if that is the result of reading one book, to be pushed toward others, I would say that the writer has been successful in their telling.

I read The Grey King as part of my Classics of Children’s Lit project and as #2/15 for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

Classic Children's Literature

Beatrix Potter Tales Part 3

Oh dear, it’s been so long since I read the rest of the Twenty-three Tales by Beatrix Potter, finishing up shortly after the end of the Classic Children’s Literature Event. But I do want to post something, and fortunately, I took notes as I read. Really, I have no excuse for taking so long, but just a sort of writing avoidance. I seem to be finding that I either have to a) write something up the moment I finish a book or b) sneak up on myself to write a blog post. That last one’s tricky.

The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse (1918)

I feel like our main character is really Timmy Willie, the country mouse. But no mind. This is a tale of a city mouse and a country mouse. Timmy Willie accidentally visits town and is quite out of place—the noise keeps him awake, the cat frightens him, and the food not at all to his taste. He is much more at home in the country, with his gardens and quiet. He returns home and eventually Johnny returns the visit, but just as Timmy Willie is unsuited to the city, Johnny is unsuited to the country.

 

The Tale of Mr. Tod - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Mr. Tod (1912)

Another tale that seems a bit misnamed, for while Mr. Tod is part of it, and the most exciting action is at his house, it seems to be as much about Tommy Brock and the efforts of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny to recover Benjamin’s little ones from the oven where the badger, Tommy Brock, has hidden them. It is thus a darker tale than the preceding, both for the greater danger the bunnies are in at the hands of the badger than any we have seen yet, and because the illustrations themselves are largely in darker colors than typically used. But it is also quite amusing, to see Mr. Tod’s machinations to get at Tommy Brock and Tommy Brock’s pretending to sleep that he might get the better of Mr. Tod.

Notably, this is the first of these I’ve read with black and white line illustrations as well as watercolors. I read the tales in the order they are numbered in my set, which is not strictly chronological, and it seems whoever ordered them put all the stories containing black and white line illustrations (they still have watercolor images, just not as many) at the back half.

The Tale of Pigling Bland - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Pigling Bland (1913)

We return to the story of a good little animal who due to outside forces finds himself on an adventure. In this case it is Pigling Bland—who doesn’t misbehave, but due to circumstances—the frivolity of his brother, a mixup of papers, and some mistaken turns, winds up lost and in a farmer’s clutches, where he must not only escape, he must rescue a girl-pig, Pig-Wig, from a future as bacon and ham.

It does seem, perhaps, that Pig-Wig may be nearly as frivolous as his brother, so one wonders in the end if Pigling Bland has gained anything? Other than, of course, female companionship.

Although there are many of these tales that only barely ring familiar, really, I’m not sure I ever read this one!

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding (1908)

We follow up with Tom Kitten & his family – Mrs. Tabitha (an “anxious parent”!) is trying to place her kittens in the cupboard to keep them out of trouble while she bakes, but she has lost Tom Kitten. While she searches, Mittens and Moffit also disappear, and she doesn’t find them until a neighbor, Mrs. Ribby, appears and searching together they find the two girls, who have seen two enormous rats—Anna Maria and Samuel Whiskers—running about stealing kitchen supplies. The rats have Tom and are preparing him as a dumpling, when John Joiner (rat terrier, I believe) shows up, and the rats run away.

Despite yet another example of a story in which a young animal is in danger of becoming someone else’s dinner, it really was a rather delightful, fun story. And, it should be noted, Miss Potter makes an appearance. I don’t think this is the first time, but it is the first by name. (The others she has just referred to herself, “I.”)

The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan (1905)

Ribby, whom we met in Samuel Whiskers, invites Duchess to tea, and promises to serve a delicious pie. Duchess accepts, but then fears it will be a mouse pie, which she couldn’t eat, so she attempts to switch it out with a veal and ham pie she made, only things don’t quite go to plan, in a most amusing way.

I must say, poor Ribby! It would seem she needs better options for guests. Though I quite understand Duchess’s reluctance to eat mouse pie, her antics in trying to switch out the pies—well, no wonder at the end she feels silly!

The Tale of Ginger and Pickles - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Ginger and Pickles (1909)

An economics tale! Ginger (cat) and Pickles (terrier) run the same-name shop, and they do rather well as far as quantity of sales—10 times Tabitha Twitchit!—, but as most of their business is on credit, they never seem to get paid. But the taxes must, so they are forced to close up shop and take up new occupation (trapping for Ginger, gamesman for Pickles). The community is dismayed at the loss of the shop, for Tabitha raises her rates and doesn’t take credit, and other options are scarce. Eventually, Sally Henny Penny reopens the shop, much to everyone’s delight, for while she won’t take credit, she is less frightening than a dog or cat and has good bargains.

It is delightful to see so many critters from previous stories in this one—more in the illustrations than show up even in the text. The reader paying good attention to Potter’s illustrations is always rewarded.

The Tale of Little Pig Robinson - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930)

“The Owl and the Pussycat”

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

This is the longest of the tales and the only one with chapter divisions; it is nonetheless delightful and diverting, even with far fewer of Potter’s always charming illustrations. Inspired by the Edward Lear poem “The Owl and the Pussycat,” it is the story of the risks of a young pig going alone to market, for although he may be good and sensible, he may not be invulnerable to harm from others. Sure enough, danger finds young Pig Robinson, and there is very real risk he may be—gasp—eaten!

Although Potter has never shied away from the realities of life—that many of her critters may be eaten, either by humans or other predators—here she has one line in particular that is both forthright and amusing: “They led prosperous uneventful lives, and their end was bacon.” (Ch. 1)

With the greater length of this story, Potter has plenty of time to set the scenery—I was truly transported to not just the countryside found in so many of her tales, but to the bustling sea-harbor of Stymouth. I wonder what else she might have done had she turned her attention more to longer stories.

The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit - Beatrix Potter

The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit (1906)

A very short little moral tale: bad rabbit = consequences! It is a very simple text, as if it is designed not only to impart a lesson (not sharing could lead to bad things), but as if it is meant as an early reader. Quite in contrast to some of the other tales, with their more complex vocabulary and structure (e.g., The Flopsy Bunnies or Little Pig Robinson). It is also one of the earlier stories, as is the following.

The Story of Miss Moppet - Beatrix PotterThe Story of Miss Moppet (1906)

Another very short, simple text, although with delightful illustrations—the expressions! It is a cute story, however, without the moral of the preceding, but rather a vignette of a cat-and-mouse game! Quite charming

Appley Dapply's Nursery Rhymes - Beatrix Potter

Appley Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes and (1917)

Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes - Beatrix Potter

Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes (1922)

Two short collections of nursery-rhymes, some I recognize from elsewhere (e.g., “Three Blind Mice,” “Goosey, Goosey, Gander”), others by reference, and some I believe to be Potter’s inventions. Although charming in their own right—and easily learnable to recite, with their patterns and rhymes–I’m not sure but that perhaps Potter used them as a raison d’être for more of her imaginative illustrations, which really seem to be the stars in these books.

Classic Children's Literature

A Farewell to April

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2016 - original

April has come and gone, and with it the Fourth Children’s Classic Literature Event. As usual, it was a fun–if fast!–month of revisiting old favorites and meeting new ones. Although I didn’t quite make it through all the Beatrix Potter tales (I will! I’ll just take some time in May for them…), I was introduced to a number of books that were completely new to me thanks to the posts by other participants. So many new possibilities to explore!

As far as I am aware, the following lists all of the posts from the second half of the month – please let me know if I missed you! (It’s very possible, as I switch between tablet and laptop, e-mail notification and feed reader.)

Anastacia from Rambling Reviews:
Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Bellezza from Dolce Bellezza:
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Carol from Jouney and Destination:
A Little Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce
Golden Fiddles by Mary Grant Bruce

Cleo from Classical Carousel
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner

Denise from News from Hobbiton:
Some of her favorite children’s stories

Lynn from Smoke and Mirrors:
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Famous Five by Enid Blyton

Plethora from Plethora of Books:
Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

Amanda from Simpler Pastimes:
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner
Beatrix Potter Stories (group 2)

Not bad! Without actually going back to check, this year’s event may have had the most books read of any to date. (And I know I’m not the only one who didn’t get everything read they had hoped.)

Thanks to everyone who participated and Happy Reading!

Classic Children's Literature

Beatrix Potter Tales, Part 2

Ah, April is flying from me! I’m only just now getting my post for the second group of Beatrix Potter tales written up. Unlike the first group, which contained two I remembered well, these were mostly unrecollected, even those I’ve had the longest.

The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher (1906)

This tale of a frog and his fishing misadventures was completely adorable! I’m really growing to love Potter’s writing – while her illustrations are wonderful, in their detail and accuracy, the way she tells the tales is equally delightful. Here, I loved the turn in the story – the suspense and surprise when the trout catches Jeremy. Her use of onomatopoeia, again, is lovely.

A GREAT big enormous trout cam up–ker-pflop-p-p-p! with a splash–and it seized Mr. Jeremy with a snap, “Ow! Ow! Ow!”–and then it turned and dived down to the bottom of the pond!

The Tale of Tom Kitten - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of Tom Kitten (1907)

An amusing little story that I didn’t recall at all. Mrs. Tabitha Twitchet is having friends to dinner, so she cleans and dresses her kittens then, foolishly, sends them out into the garden while she finishes preparations. Of course, being kittens unused to clothes, they soon manage to burst their buttons and lose their clothes to the Puddleducks (first mention!). Banishment to the bedroom ensues. I am not sure why the title only names Tom–although he is the one that is too fat and bursts his buttons, they all lose their clothes.

 

The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck (1908)

Potter, in this charming little tale, illustrates the phrase “bird-brained” very well! Jemima, understandably, wants to sit on her eggs rather than letting the farmer give them to the hen for setting. So she seeks out a good location for a nest, and finds one in the “summer house” of a very well-dressed, whiskered gentleman. Poor Jemima is so naïve – or dense! – that she doesn’t recognize him for a fox or that the many feathers in his house must surely have come from some other unfortunate birds… Rather than mischievous or disobedient, this protagonist is simply foolish.

 

The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909)

Another return to the world of Peter and Benjamin. Apparently Peter Rabbit manages to grow up responsibly – his lesson learned – but Benjamin Bunny does not. Both hinted at, of course, in Benjamin’s tale. Interestingly, it would seem that Flopsy doesn’t do much better than Benjamin, despite the fact that she was one of the obedient little rabbits in the first tale. Obedient, but not wise, perhaps, as it seems she is as poor a household manager as Benjamin.

It would seem the feud between the McGregors and the rabbits is long-standing. Of course. In this tale, though, they are NOT in his garden, just his rubbish bin. But it is an interesting image, that of a large family reduced to depending on help from in-laws and rubbish piles. An image of poverty in these otherwise gentle books. And an apt illustration of “improvident.” I think these rabbits could fit into Dickens… And how lovely, that it is Mrs. Tittlemouse that is the resourceful, problem solving one!

I noticed the effectiveness of Potter’s introduction of some new vocabulary in this one–not only does she do a great job of introducing “soporific,” but it is reinforced later in the story.

 

The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910)

Ah, a story of frustration if ever there was one! I do feel for Mrs. Tittlemouse–all those uninvited guests!–, although I do wonder if perhaps she isn’t maybe just a bit too fastidious. Cleaning while the guests are there can be rude…even if they invited themselves in! (Come to think of it, a lot of impoliteness in this one.)

Another one with lots of great sounds in this one – the buzzing from the bees, the “tiddly, widdly” of Mr. Jackson.

 

The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (1911)

A tale of a good little squirrel – and prudent. But sometimes bad things happen to good people, as when less prudent and more foolish squirrels become jealous and turn on the wiser one. But there is also a bit of an unexpected turn, in that this story turns to domestic matters. Mrs. Chippy Hackee has been abandoned by her husband–as Mrs. Goody Tiptoes believes has happened to her (though Timmy is just stuck down the hole in the tree). And Mrs. Hackee daren’t go down the tree after the pair for her husband bites. Sure enough, it will rain, the tree will fall, and Chippy will learn his lesson, but it suggests yet another portrait of a human character, the neglectful, selfish spouse, in animal form.

It is interesting how Potter is able to through these stories give a sense of human stories that might seem too grown up for young children were they not in the form of animal characters.

Despite the rapidly dwindling month (and available free-time), I do hope to finish reading these charming tales before the end of April. They have all been such a delight to read–and look at.