Classic Children's Literature

Welcome to the Classic Children’s Literature Event, 2017!

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017

Is there any essential connection between children and fairy-stories? Is there any call for comment, if an adult reads them for himself? Reads them as tales, that is, not studies them as curios. (J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-stories”, paragraph 42)

Today marks the first day of the 2016 Classic Children’s Literature Event! I hope for a fun month of revisiting old favorites and meeting new ones, and for plenty of great discussion about children’s classics both well known and nearly forgotten.

Starting today, the Event Logo at the top right of the blog will link to this page, which will be the link page for the event. (And this post should also be a “sticky” post at the top of the blog.) Please use the  comments below to link to your posts for this month. This will make it easier to for everyone to find each other’s posts! There will be a separate page for the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland readalong which will go live nearer to the discussion weekend. At the end of the month–and half-way through if there are enough posts to warrant it–I will round up all the links onto one post for ease of discover.

As I said before, I’m not too fussy about the particulars for this event–as long as it’s still April it’s never too late to join!

(If you really want more guidelines check the Introductory Post. If you need reading ideas please see 2013’s suggestions list or 2014’s.)

The Classics Club

Classics Spin 15

Question Mark - cover place holderHuh. It’s been a long time since I participated in a Classics Club Spin – apparently they’re on #15, and I last “spun” for number 9! So it’s about time. Especially since I have a new list from which I’ve only read one book so far. Of course, I have an abysmal record at finishing either book and/or post by the deadline, and I don’t exactly have an abundance of reading time at the moment, but ever-optimistic, I’ll try again. Per the suggestions, I selected a mix of books I’m really looking forward to/neutral about/on the slightly dreading side of neutral (I’m only truly dreading the really long books, but if I’m to be at all practical, I’d better steer clear of those at present). I’ve rounded out the list with the 5 Shakepeare titles currently on my CC list.

Without further ado:

  1. Jane Austen – Lady Susan
  2. Louis Bromfield – The Farm
  3. Homer – The Iliad
  4. William Shakespeare – The Merchant of Venice
  5. William Faulkner – The Sound and the Fury
  6. Anthony Trollope – The Warden
  7. Jonathon Swift – Gulliver’s Travels
  8. William Shakespeare – Hamlet
  9. Elizabeth Gaskell – Cranford
  10. Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities
  11. William Faulkner – The Reivers
  12. William Shakespeare – Othello
  13. Stella Gibbons – Cold Comfort Farm
  14. F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
  15. William Dean Howells – The Rise of Silas Lapham
  16. William Shakespeare – King Lear
  17. Aldous Huxley – Brave New World
  18. Ann Radcliffe – The Italian
  19. Joseph Conrad – The Heart of Darkness
  20. William Shakespeare – The Tempest

Good luck to those also participating and Happy Reading!

Reading all around the World

Reading All Around the World

In some–no, many–ways I feel very fortunate. One example: Although I am from a small (and shrinking) city in the Midwest and although I’ve lived in said city my whole life, excepting my time at college–which was only 25 miles up the road–, and a semester in Italy, I have had the good fortune to both meet people from all over the world and people who have traveled the world. Some, like me, have family that has been here for several generations, but unlike me, still have strong ties to their ancestors’ cultures, often throught their churches. Some I’ve met have been immigrants, firmly settled here, or students, just passing through. And some I know–including some family members–have lived oversees, fully experiencing another culture and country. Regardless, I have found that there is no better way to reinforce that people everywhere, despite our cultural differences, are much the same at the core, than to engage with people–sometimes even at the most minimal level–who have experienced another culture. My initial opinions on the U.S.’s 2003 invasion of Iraq were complicated by my acquaintances with an Iraqi-American who had fled Hussein’s government and a Bosnian who had survived the siege of Sarajevo. My awareness of the history of Crimea was not from the evening news, but a former roommate from the region. My concern over Syria increases from the many Syrian Christians in my hometown.

But we are not always so fortunate to meet people from elsewhere. Or even when we do, it may only be in passing and we never know their story. Even 14 years ago, when I was in Italy, there were many African migrants who I would pass on the streets, or sit across the aisle from at the Episcopal Church on Sundays. But I never actually met any, knew their names, knew their stories. Only that they were. On the other hand, books can bring us there. I’ve never been to Chile, but The House of the Spirits taught me much about Chilean history and about Chileans impacted by forces larger than themselves. Add to that the many wonderful books I’ve read from other countries, and I’ve long been wanting to expand my reading beyond my typical U.S.-Britain, occasional Spanish-language material.

So I knew I wanted to jump on board when I saw that Jean of Howling Frog Books was hosting a Reading all around the World–well, not challenge, but adventure, I knew I wanted to join in.

Buttong: Reading all around the World

But I’m adding my own personal twist. See, when I was first thinking about my own project for this–long before Jean announced the Club–I thought I would pick books out for an international reading project based on people I’ve met. Perhaps a little more limiting that the entire world, but with roughly 200 countries to choose from, it seemed a good way to narrow down my options. And wouldn’t you know it–when I started to list them out, I had no trouble reaching 50 (albeit, some of the connections are a bit tenuous).

There are few rules–a minimum of 50 countries (reader-defined) either fiction (author must be from/live in said country) or nonfiction about a country, no time limit, no pressure (see Jean’s post for details). I highly encourage anyone interested in expanding their reading past their comfort zone-countries to join in!

I’m tentatively aiming for five years, knowing the reality is more like ten (ambition never hurts!). My current list, subject to change, in alphabetical order:

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Argentina
  3. Australia
  4. Belgium
  5. Bosnia
  6. Brazil
  7. Canada
  8. Chile
  9. China
  10. Colombia
  11. Croatia
  12. Cuba
  13. England
  14. Estonia
  15. Fiji
  16. Finland
  17. France
  18. Germany
  19. Greece
  20. Guatemala
  21. India
  22. Iran
  23. Iraq
  24. Ireland
  25. Italy
  26. Jamaica
  27. Japan
  28. Kenya
  29. Mexico
  30. New Zealand
  31. Nicaragua
  32. Niger
  33. Pakistan
  34. Peru
  35. Philippines
  36. Poland
  37. Qatar
  38. Romania
  39. Russia
  40. Scotland
  41. Spain
  42. Sri Lanka
  43. Sudan
  44. Sweden
  45. Switzerland
  46. Syria
  47. Thailand
  48. Turkey
  49. Ukraine
  50. Wales

This should be fun! Now, which country to choose first…?

Reading Ohio

Completed: Folks from Dixie by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Cover: The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence DunbarFolks from Dixie
Paul Laurence Dunbar
(U.S., Ohio, 1898)
as republished in The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar
Ed. Gene Andrew Jarrett and Thomas Lewis Morgan
Forward by Shelley Fisher Fishkin
(Ohio University Press, 2005)

It is a very fortunate thing that I took notes as I made my way through some of Dunbar’s stories this past spring; it has been so long since that I read them, that my memories have grown faint. Although I had at hand a collection of the entirety of Dunbar’s short fiction, I opted at this point to stick with just those stories making up Folks from Dixie, the first published collection of short stories by Dunbar.

One trouble I had reading the stories from the  21st century perspective was trying to make out where Dunbar was portraying realistic situations (as his contemporary critics praised him for) vs. what was expected by his white audience–was he pandering in stereotype or were his stories accurate? Is it one of those things where we look back years later and see stereotype or cliché but it was fresh or unusual at the time? Regardless, it was an interesting set of stories and characters, with settings in both the north and south, among the poor and the middle class and the previously rich, with characters both black and white. Dialect is employed liberally–and not just African American Vernacular; one of the stories is set in West Virginia and so an Appalachian dialect is used as appropriate. Faith, community, and family are the predominant themes. Some stories are heart-warming, some amusing. Some portray the complexities of relationships between blacks and whites both before and after the Civil War, while some focus entirely on African American characters.

Even more so than I noted in Dunbar’s poetry, a happy–or at least uplifting–ending seems almost requisite. Even when everything seems to have gone wrong, or every opportunity is there for the story to take a darker turn, it always seems to work out in the end. I couldn’t say if this was reflective of Dunbar’s own personality or point-of-view or simply if it was what would sell. (And I know too little of the era’s short stories to know if such positivity was generally common in published short fiction. They do perhaps bring to mind the short stories of L.M. Montgomery which are also consistently uplifting.) In a way though, it is refreshing to read, at least when the current reality of 2016 seems to always want to take the darker path. And it is perhaps our 21st century cynicism that makes me notice Dunbar’s optimism.

“Anner ‘Lizer’s Stumblin’ Block”

A plantation story—all the characters are slaves—yet, it feels odd, as if it is one of those stories that is romanticizing the plantation era, even though written by a descendant of slaves. Quite the contrast to Charles W. Chestnutt. But it is striking to me, from both Dunbar’s and Chestnutt’s stories, there is almost the sound as if slaves were just allowed to walk around wherever—that is, Sam is out “‘coon hunting” and the other slaves go to revival service—I would have thought they’d be more limited, more confined. What is accurate?

In this, Anner ‘Lizer goes to a revival service & finds herself wanting “‘ligion,” but she can never seem to overcome some “stumblin’ block” that keeps her from leaving the “mourner’s bench.” This “stumblin’ block” turns out to be Sam: Anner ‘Lizer isn’t sure if he wants to marry her or Phinny, another slave. It is an ironic story, as seen in the difference between what Anner ‘Lizer is really thinking and what the other slaves think she is thinking, i.e., they think she is solely focused on getting religion, while in reality she can’t get Sam off her mind.

“The Ordeal at Mt. Hope”

He passed vacant lots which lay open and inviting children to healthful play; but instead of marbles or leap-frog or ball, he found little boys in ragged knickerbockers huddled together on the ground, ‘shooting craps’ with precocious avidity and quarrelling over the pennies that made the pitiful wagers. He heard a glib profanity rolling from the lips of children who should have been stumbling through baby catechisms; and his heart ached for them.” (17)

Another southern story, but this one post-war and in an all-black community. It is an interesting look at the contrasts between an educated, northern black man and his uneducated southern small-town counterparts. Although in some ways I suppose it might stereotype, just including a standard-English speaking black man was, I would guess, an accomplishment for the late 1800s. On a certain level, it is a universal story and shows that some things haven’t changed (and some never well)–young folks not doing what their elders want, the lure of alcohol and other temptations, the wariness of a small town of outsiders, the way communities just sit in hopelessness, seemingly unwilling or unable to try to change anything and make things better. Indeed, “Mt. Hope” is an ironic town name, yet true to Dunbar’s form, it is flipped on its head to be accurate by the end.

He could not talk to Elias. He could not lecture him. He would only be dashing his words against the accumulated evil of years of bondage as the ripples of a summer sea beat against a stone wall. It was not the wickedness of this boy he was fighting or even the wrongdoing of Mt. Hope. It was the aggregation of the evils of the fathers, the grandfathers, the masters and mistresses of these people. Against this what could talk avail?” (21)

“The Colonel’s Awakening”

A very sad story of a southern gentleman whose mind has been in the past ever since his two sons were killed in the war. Two of his former slaves (“servants”) care for him, pretending for him that it is just the same as it always was. But rather than romanticizing the antebellum South, with servants staying out of loyalty to their master, it appears that due to age, they don’t know how else they might live. The colonel is however portrayed sympathetically, despite his past slave-holding. Loss is universal.

…and in the haste of the retreat he had been buried with the unknown dead. Into that trench, among the unknown, Colonel Robert Estridge had laid his heart, and there it had stayed. Time stopped, and his faculties wandered. He lived always in the dear past. The present and future were not.” (26)

“The Trial Sermons on Bull-Skin”

A church is in need of a new pastor, but there are two factions who cannot agree on who it should be. It is decided to give the two choices each a Sunday sermon, and the faction leaders embark on plots to win over others to their side while undercutting the other. I found it quite an amusing story, even knowing how common such a congregational fractures are, for Dunbar keeps it lighthearted, and there never seems any real danger that this will split up the church–though perhaps some feelings will be long hurt.

“Jimsella”

Here, we have a portrait of domestic distress: abandonment and adultery, but in the end the power of an infant brings the father/husband back hope. A bit of a sweet story, actually, despite how unpromising it begins. It is yet another example of Dunbar’s penchant for uplifting endings. “Jimsella” is set in a northern city–perhaps New York? According to the introduction to The Complete Stories, this would have been a challenge to preconceived notions of the era’s readers, expecting to only see former slaves or their descendants in the rural south.

“Mt. Pisgah’s Christmas ‘Possum”

This one was perhaps less jolly that I might have expected for a Christmas story, as it turns out that Brother Jabez ate 3 of the 4 Christmas ‘Possums! I admit, before reading this collection, I had never contemplated the thought of eating ‘possum, but apparently it would not have been uncommon in Dunbar’s day, as a number of stories reference it.

“A Family Feud”

The old woman had been a trusted house-servant in one of the wealthiest of the old Kentucky families, and a visit to her never failed to elicit some reminiscence of the interesting past. Aunt Doshy was inordinately proud of her family, as she designated the Venables, and was never weary of detailing accounts of their grandeur and generosity. What if some of the harshness of reality was softened by the distance through which she looked back upon them; what if the glamour of memory did put a halo round the heads of some people who were never meant to be canonised? It was all plain fact to Aunt Doshy…” (45)

This is different in that this story, while a plantation story, is the story of a white family, specifically a father and son, and the split that nearly happens between them over the woman the son chooses to marry. It is told by an old woman who had been a slave on the plantation, and one of the characters was the master’s son’s old nurse who does what it takes to reunite the two. It is interesting to me in that it illustrates the complexities of relationships between master and slaves. There is perhaps a bit of romanticism of the past, but I would guess that–considering the story told in The Help–the idea of such relationship between nurse and son is not complete fiction. A sweet story, really.

“Aunt Mandy’s Investment”

A swindler sets up an investment (Ponzi) scheme, convincing the poor blacks of a city he’s just arrived at that if they invest with him, they will reap the benefits and avoid the white man gaining their money. An old lady, Mandy, comes to him privately to invest her little savings that she might bring her son back from out west. This is a charming story, the reader knowing by now that Dunbar will work it all out–for Mandy at least.

“The Intervention of Peter”

Peter, desperate to prevent his master from dying in a duel (of honor), takes matters into his own hands and is about to fire an old fowling piece at the opponent when discovered, a discovery which causes all concerned (save Peter) to howl with laughter. Looking at this and “A Family Feud,” I notice that Dunbar seems to be showing that the slaves have more sense than their masters. Is this where we see him subverting the plantation story?

“Nelse Hatton’s Vengence”

The people had eaten their suppers, and the male portion of the families had come out in front of their houses to smoke and rest or read the evening paper. Those who had porches drew their rockers out on them, and sat with their feet on the railing. Others took their more humble positions on the front steps, while still others, whose houses were flush with the street, went even so far as to bring their chairs out upon the sidewalk, and over all there was an air of calmness and repose save when a glance through the open doors revealed the housewives busy at their evening dishes, or the blithe voices of the children playing in the street told that little Sally Waters was a-sitting in a saucer or asserted with doubtful veracity that London Bridge Was falling down. Here and there a belated fisherman came straggling up the street that led from the river, every now and then holding up his string of slimy, wiggling catfish in answer to the query ‘Wha’ ‘d you ketch?'” (59)

A tramp shows up on the back door of former slave Nelse Hatton’s house (in Ohio), begging for food. Nelse’s wife reluctantly sets the table at Nelse’s insistence, and he and the tramp have a conversation while the tramp eats, leading to the discovery that the tramp is “Mas’ Tom,” the son of Nelse’s old master. Excited, he wants to introduce his family, but his wife, Eliza, scorns meeting the man who gave her husband a scar on his neck. Her anger brings Nelse’s to rise, and for a moment we are afraid he will do as he once vowed and kill the man. But in the end, Tom Hatton having expressed remorse for the scar, Nelse gives him his Sunday suit and money to return home to Kentucky.

This is another illustration of the complex relations between (ex)slaves and (ex)masters. But I think the kicker is Nelse’s final statement: “Bless God, ‘Lizzy, I feel as good as a young convert.” Religion/faith may not be overt in this story, but it colors the end.

“At Shaft 11”

Unlike the other stories, in this one, a white man, Jason Andrews, is the primary protagonist, or at least as much as anyone is in the story. (A black man, Sam Bowles, is another.) It is a story of a mine strike—and it seems to be anti-union.  Or at least, pro-capitalist. The black men are the strike breakers, Jason is against the strike, but has left the mine so his white friends can’t say he profited. This interaction between black and white takes on an interesting dimension when it also equals strikers vs. strike breakers: even without a racial aspect, tension leading to violence seems highly likely. Interesting to me, also, unlike Chestnutt’s stories in which his ex-slave story teller frequently used “n—-r” to refer to his fellow African Americans, this was the first story in which Dunbar employed the term, and there in the voice of the strikers.

“The Deliberation of Mr. Dunkin”

This is a very familiar story, about the courting of a very pretty young woman, Miss Callena Johnson, the new school teacher, by Mr. Alonzo Taft, although he is supposedly acting on behalf of his friend, Mr. Dunkin.  It is so familiar, in fact, that I read it already this year—The Two Gentlemen of Verona— and I’m sure elsewhere as well. Of course, all works out in the end, and the collection ends on a very charming note.

3/3 posts relating to my spring reading of Paul Laurence Dunbar works. Read as part of my Reading Ohio project and for the category “a volume of classic short stories” for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

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

Welcome to the Classic Children’s Literature Event, 2016!

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2016 - original

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and far more often) worth reading at the age of fifty.

C.S. Lewis

Today marks the first day of the 2016 Classic Children’s Literature Event! I hope for a fun month of revisiting old favorites and meeting new ones, and for plenty of great discussion about children’s classics both well known and nearly forgotten.

Starting today, the Event Logo at the top right of the blog will link to this page, which will be the link page for the event. (And this post should also be a “sticky” post at the top of the blog.) Please use the  comments below to link to your posts for this month. This will make it easier to for everyone to find each other’s posts! There will be a separate page for the Emil and the Detectives readalong which will go live nearer to the discussion weekend. At the end of the month–and half-way through if there are enough posts to warrant it–I will round up all the links onto one post for ease of discover.

As I said before, I’m not too fussy about the particulars for this event–as long as it’s still April it’s never too late to join!

(If you really want more guidelines check the Introductory Post. If you need reading ideas please see 2013’s suggestions list or 2014’s.)

Once Upon a Time · RAL · Reading

Anticipating April….and May….and June…and…

I was just updating podcasts to my iPod and thinking, “oh, I’m nearly caught up with my favorite podcast – I’m almost to November,” when it dawned on me: my brain is still stuck in January, even while it’s March all around.

Spring Squills - 2016

We’ve had an unbelievably mild winter (although, cruelly, there were snowflakes falling on this first day of spring), but it is still nice to welcome in the spring blooms and longer days.

And with spring, my mind turns to spring reads. This past week, after reading a number of “books I’m looking forward to this spring” and “here’s what I’m reading for April’s Classic Children’s Literature Event” posts, I thought, “hey I need to do one of those!” So here goes:

Spring 2016 Reads

From the top:

  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, and The Tailor of Glouscester – I’ve been wanting to revisit Beatrix Potter for a while, such delightful and charmingly illustrated tales, and what better time than for the Children’s Event?
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I’ve been wanting to read this in June for years
  • The Jungle Book – I have long had a fondness for the tale “‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,'” but I’ve never read any of the rest. Long overdue!
  • Pedro Páramo – my Classics Club spin selection
  • Titus Andronicus – the next Shakespeare selection on my list for this year
  • Selected Poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar – I’ve slowly, slowly working through this and vow to finish by the end of April – poetry month!
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – I’m hoping it’s as amusing as the premise sounds. It’s one of the many books on my shelves that I’ve decided I must simply get read sooner rather than later.
  • Bleak House (vol. 1 of 2) – Well, a start.
  • The Sound and the Fury – another I’ve started, but have since been distracted from
  • Emil and the Detectives – the readalong title, of course!
  • The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar – I don’t intend to read the whole thing at this point, but I’ve started with Dunbar’s first story collection Folks from Dixie. This, and the Selected Poems above are both part of my Ohio project.

And this assumes of course, that some other distraction–or other blogger’s list–doesn’t catch my eye! On the other hand, if the reading goes well, I may add another title or two to the Children’s Classics list, most likely Part 2 of Little Women (in my edition, Good Wives in other places). Of course, the list above may give you a clue that I’m joining in some other events, despite all my busyness (I’m pretty sure that I’m piling on the books as a knee-jerk response to the fact that I can’t keep up at work either – might as well fail spectacularly at everything all at once!)

Button: Poetry Month Celebration at The Edge of the Precipice

Cleo’s been a terrible temptress of late, but I won’t blame her for letting me know about the Poetry Month Celebration at The Edge of the Precipice. No, I’m happy to have an outside incentive (besides library due dates) to finish the Dunbar poems. For that matter, I believe that The Jungle Book has some poetry as well.

Button: The Pickwick Papers Read-Along

But even before that, O’s Pickwick Papers Read-Along begins. A nice, slow, long term one, it seems totally doable as long as I remember to read for it!

Button: Once Upon a Time X (art by Melissa Nucera https://www.etsy.com/people/ThisYearsGirl)

And of course, I have to participate in Once Upon a Time! Even when I’m not planning on it, the pretty artwork (this year by Melissa Nucera) reels me in every year. I’m not sure what I’m reading, other than A Midsummer Night’s Dream (although there are some rereads I’m eyeing), so I’m only planning on participating in “The Journey,” which is just one book (or more…) Of course, if I were to pick up some Ancient Greek mythology (for one of my 2016 challenges), that would count as well. See, blogging is a very dangerous thing!

Button: Once Upon a Time X "The Journey" (art by Melissa Nucera https://www.etsy.com/people/ThisYearsGirl)

 

Happy Reading!