Children’s Books

The Silver Chair – A Newcomer Arrives in Narnia

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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe may be the most familiar of the seven Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, but it is not necessarily the most thrilling. That honor belongs to The Silver Chair, the sixth book in chronological order, a tale of daring rescue, escape from man-eating giants, and being in over one’s head to fulfill a call.

In this Narnia adventure, the four Pevensies (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) have not been drawn by Aslan in His world; instead their unappealing cousin, Eustace Scrubb, enters the magical land with his classmate, Jill Pole. As you may know, Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader made a complete change and has become a new person. This has become evident to his school acquaintance, Jill, and is expressed by Eustace himself in the following humble and humorous fashion: “Then wash out last term if you can,” said Eustace. “I was different then, I was –gosh! What a little tick I was.”

This pair of unlikely heroes is joined by a new creature -one from C.S. Lewis’ fertile imagination, a Marsh-wiggle named Puddleglum from Ettinsmore who is all gangly limbs and pessimistic predictions.

 

silver chair 4The trio’s impossible mission is to locate the missing Prince, heir to the throne of Narnia and son of the aged King Caspian.   But Rilian disappeared without a trace over ten years earlier and their quest is fraught with mystery and both subtle and horrifying dangers.

Jill Pole as a newcomer to Narnia has no experience with Aslan, the Lion who rules this world. He is not a tame lion and she knows this instinctively in her first face to face encounter with Aslan.  His prone and majestic form lies between her and the stream she so desperately needs to drink from:

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.” …and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.”

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer; “ I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

Once she approaches and drinks, Aslan gives her the instructions for the quest: “I lay on you this command, that you seek this lost prince until either you have found him and brought him to his father’s house else died in the attempt, or else gone back to your own world.”

Jill is given the responsibility to remember four signs to guide the rescuers in their quest. Aslan gives Jill a stern command: “Repeat the signs to remember them. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.”

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As you might imagine, Jill does not have the maturity or faith to fulfill her duty and what happens next is a series of misadventures that ultimately lead them into great peril. Join Puddleglum, Eustace, and Jill as they encounter giants from the House of Harfang, the sinister Lady of the Green Kirtle, a mysterious knight in black armor, and gnomes from the Land of Bism.

I recommend the trade paperback edition (256 pages) published in 2000 by Harper Collins with its beautiful full color illustrations by Pauline Baynes.

The Narnia Chronicles in chronological order: The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.

The Silver Chair was originally published in 1953 and is 4th in publication order. The website http://www.narnia.com features an interview of C.S. Lewis’ step-son Douglas Gresham who gives an update about the movie version of The Silver Chair.

 

 

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Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Christian Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Historical fiction for young and old

witch of blackbird pond“No, writing is not lonely. It is a profession crowded with life and sound and color. I feel privileged to have had a share in it.” —Elizabeth George Speare

Elizabeth George Speare was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1908 and lived all her life in New England. She described her early writing days and the development of her first novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (the 1959 Newbery Award winner):

I turned naturally to the things which had filled my days and thoughts and began to write magazine articles about family living. Then one day I stumbled on a true story from New England history with a character who seemed to me an ideal heroine. Though I had my first historical novel almost by accident it soon proved to be an absorbing hobby.” Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994)

The result was a deeply layered reading experience with a vivid heroine, Kit Tyler, who is imperfect and endearing. In1687, Kit, an orphan, loses both home and guardian when her grandfather dies and his estate on the Caribbean island of Barbados defaults to his creditors. She must sail to Connecticut colony to live with her Aunt Rachel who has married a staunch Puritan, Matthew Wood.

On the voyage up the Atlantic seaboard, Kit makes friends with the sea captain’s son, Nat Eaton, as well as a serious young minister, John Holbrook, also heading for the same town. Later, William Ashby, son of the richest man in town becomes a suitor approved by Kit’s Uncle Matthew.

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I remember thoroughly enjoying the romance woven into the tale when I first read the novel as a young teen. Recently, when I read the book to my own daughters, I found myself using the story and its characters to give them a life lesson on finding a compatible marriage partner.

Despite the kindness of her relatives, willful, spoiled, lonesome Kit cannot seem to adjust to Puritan life and suffers greatly. She finds solace in the meadows outside the town, and soon meets Hannah, an old Quaker woman who has been ostracized for her different beliefs and lives a serene and misunderstood life far from the town and surrounding farms.

“Tis a strange thing, that the only friends I have I found in the same way, lying flat in the meadows, crying as if their hearts would break.” (Hannah)

While their friendship brings Kit much joy, it also later leads to peril as Kit is accused of witchcraft.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is not a historical lesson on 17th century witch hunts disguised as fiction. The setting and time period are well researched, but the complex plot and the characters’ growth brings this young adult novel to life and earns it my highest rating and recommendation for children 10 and older and adults who either missed it in their youth or want to re-read it.

Other young adult fiction titles by Elizabeth George Speare:

The Bronze Bow

The Sign of the Beaver

Calico Captive

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are You Ready to Be Scared? Fantasy by Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood and Co.“Between the ages of seven and nine I was often ill, and spent long periods in hospital and at home in bed. During this time I escaped from boredom and frustration by reading furiously: books littered my bedroom floor like bones in a lion’s cave. I tended to enjoy stories of magical adventure more than ones about real life – I think this was because they provided a more complete escape. Around this time I fell in love with fantasy.” Jonathan Stroud (www.jonathanstroud.com)

Jonathan Stroud is a wonderful wordsmith and a skilled world maker. His two fantasy series, Lockwood & Co. and The Bartimaeus Sequence, employ supernatural beings that frighten and intrigue the reader.

I’ve read The Screaming Staircase and The Whispering Skull in the Lockwood & Co. series and am looking forward to getting my hands on the third novel, The Hollow Boy, which has just been published.

Mr. Stroud uses his home turf, the City of London, as his setting, but has masterfully altered it to create a fantasy world in which “The Problem” has occurred, an invasion of ghostly hauntings that frighten and often kill the human residents. A culture of children and teen warriors has arisen to do serious battle with these malevolent apparitions.

Anthony Lockwood, Lucy Carlyle, and George Cubbins make up the members of the maverick agency Lockwood & Co. that dares to venture out at night to solve ghostly hauntings without the supervision of adults. Lucy, a teen girl with the dubious gift of hearing ghosts joins in the adventures of the two boys who inhabit a rambling three-story house in the city.

I am not a believer in ghosts, but I found myself irresistibly pulled into the world Mr. Stroud created.  Swords at their sides, intrepid “agents” risk their lives locating the source of the ghosts – often a burial ground, beloved object, or murder site. Ancient wrongs are righted, people are protected, and human evildoers are unmasked. Weapons that work on the supernatural creatures include salt bombs, magnesium flares, iron chains, and silver rapiers.

I was introduced to Jonathan Stroud’s writing in his earlier New York Times bestselling series: The Bartimaeus Sequence: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, Ptolemy’s Gate, and The Ring of Solomon.

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In the Bartimaeus books, the people who sought to harness the power of demons have become evil themselves (which is a fair warning to resist summoning evil spirits). These demonic slaves nurse an abiding hatred for their human masters and ceaselessly seek to escape – to destroy, kill, and then return to their hellish home. Nathaniel, an inexperienced, yet arrogant magician’s apprentice, encounters Kitty, a member of the Resistance, and finds himself rethinking his role in the governmental system that has placed power in the hands of corrupt officials who use it to further their own selfish interests.

Both the Lockwood and Co. Series and the Bartimaeus Sequence contain story lines and world building that are based on a view that the occult world, be it demonic or ghostly, is dangerous and opposed to the wellbeing of humans.   This was comforting to me because I threw away my ouija board as a teenager, and as an adult, continue to have nothing to do with contacting the evil spiritual world. I would like to point out that the demon Bartimaeus is a sympathetic character that incongruously develops some concern for his human counterparts. This puts him in an odd “good demon” category.

As a fantasy author, Mr. Stroud never opens a window into the Heavenly realm, nor does he bring in the helpful services of angels or the power of a benevolent God to work on behalf of the beleaguered people in his stories.  It is best lockwood & co. 3if the reader enters Mr. Stroud’s fantasy worlds without expecting a Christian worldview.  Taking that into consideration, these two series are delightfully scary, interesting and penned by an excellent storyteller.

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Fantasy, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plan Ahead for Summer Reading

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s almost summertime and I am pushing my “read more” agenda again! Here are some specific ideas for getting more from your reading this summer:

1) Read more – set higher personal reading goals! Summer reading is a special experience because is often takes place out of doors, on a beach or a porch swing. We can allow ourselves a large allocation of time to read during this season because our routine is changing as we welcome our children home from school and make vacation plans.

My goal: Read a minimum of an hour a day June -August.

2) Connect with others in your reading! Reading is not a solitary happening, but a satisfying conduit for building common experiences. Use your inner circle’s reading recommendations – children, spouses, parents, librarians, and friends. Target your children’s favorite book and watch their pleasure as you become familiar with the plots and characters they love.

My goal: Read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

3) Stretch your mental muscles! All have the capacity to enjoy a classic book. Although there is no harm in seeking a “light” read; the mental challenge in reading classic literature propels you into new depths — past the shallow water of superficial plots and stereotypical characters.

My goal: Read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

4) Re-read a childhood favorite! Go down memory lane and enjoy that classic children’s book again. Perhaps a family member might join you in this endeavor, but even when you read something independently, you can still take time to share excerpts that you felt most impacted by; whether it be humorous, serious, or touching.

My goal: Read Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne.4cd2e-the_sweetness_at_the_bottom_of_the_pie

5) Listen to an audio version of a book! On a family car trip or even during your mundane work commute, pop in an audio book and enjoy a good story as the miles roll by.  As a side effect, if your children are listening too, audio versions of books allow them to participate and experience literature above their own reading level.

My goal: Listen to the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Book #1 is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – all the books are narrated splendidly by Jayne Entwhistle)

6) Be a good reading example to others! Maybe this summer is the time to read purely for enjoyment. Others watch what you do more than what you say, so if you especially want your spouse or children to pick up a book in their spare time, – to “read for pleasure” – as the phrase goes, then you must do the same.  Show them by example that reading isn’t always work!

My goal: to put up my feet in the daytime and read when the chores are not yet done.

7) Hit the library! Make use of your tax dollars and browse the local library for good ideas and free books to borrow. Library summer reading programs for kids and adults help direct our goals to increase reading with their prizes and recognition.

My goal: Sign us all up for the Dauphin County Library summer reading program on June 1st.

da69a-girl-reading1So, enjoy some special reading adventures this summer and please tell me about them!

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, British novels, Chick lit, Children's Books, Christian Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Read Aloud, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Enrich Your Christmas Season With Special Stories

Christmastime offers us more than scrambling for appropriate gifts for everyone and hurrying to get our homes decorated in time for holiday festivities. Our hearts long for meaning and heart-stirring stories to inspire and bring us together. Many movies provide spiritual and emotional sustenance, but books, too, turn our eyes toward deeper themes. Three of my favorites to share with my readers are The Gift of the Magi , How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Story of the Other Wise Man.

Gift of the Magi

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry is a short story set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. A husband and wife are scraping by in their early years of marriage and seek to find a meaningful Christmas gift for each other. Money is certainly an object and there is literally not enough to buy even a single gift. Their story of sacrifice and generosity strips the gaudy materialism off American Christmas gift giving and shines a light into the heart of loving through sacrificial giving. Hopefully, O. Henry’s message will take the poor and rich on the same journey because it is not about “what’s in your wallet”, but about how one chooses to show love. Here is the ending, but I entreat you to read the story, too, to understand the profundity of this lovely language:

“The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss is a well-known Christmas story that is only fifty-seven years old, but still resonates with us today as we face a holiday that is a very mixed bag of holy and holly. It is funny and outrageous and profound; within its pages hides the answer to what is wrong with us Americans at Christmastime.

It opens with the Grinch up on his solitary mountain looking down, literally and figuratively, on the Whos as they prepare to celebrate Christmas with traditional and extravagant noise, gifts, food, and singing. Dr Seuss masterfully captures so many of our Christmastime difficulties: too much feasting, too much spending, and too many social encounters, but he turns the problems on their heads and teaches us that the heart is at the center of the solution:

“And what happened then…? Well… in Who-ville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day! And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight, he whizzed with his load through the bright morning light and he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast! And he…. HE HIMSELF…! The Grinch carved the roast beast!”

When our hearts are ready to experience the good in Christmas then we can participate, like the Grinch did, in the joy: time with friends and family, generous giving that delights others, and fun in the traditions and events.

OtherWiseMan

The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke is an old story, originally published in 1895, with a deep moral theme summed up at the end of the book with a quote from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25:

“The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The main character of Van Dyke’s fictional account is a fourth wise man, Artaban, who misses the rendezvous with his three friends as they set off on the arduous trek through the Arabian desert to the birthplace of the Messiah. Artaban also earnestly desires to follow the star and offer his valuable gifts, but is continually waylaid by the needs of desperate people and, in the end, gives away all the treasure that was meant for the Christ Child. This precious story is told with a Middle Eastern voice, eloquent and mystical, and would be best read to younger children due to its complex sentence structure and vocabulary. The poignant ending of Artaban’s pilgrimage imparts a message to us all that the seemingly unimportant aspects of our lives can be sacrifices to God.

I hope you can add a little deep and touching reading to your Christmas busyness.

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Inspiration, Read Aloud | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cheaper By the Dozen – Quirky and Profound

cheaper by the dozen 3Cheaper By the Dozen, the memoirs of two of the twelve children born to Frank B. Gilbreth, Sr. (“Dad”) and Lillian Moller Gilbreth (“Mother”), was an instant hit upon its publication in 1948. Hollywood made a movie of the story shortly afterward, in 1950, starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy.

This true story weaves anecdotes of the quirky Gilbreth tribe together with an unmistakably strong cord of familial affection; “Dad” and “Mother” love each other unreservedly and welcome each new “model” with delight.   Even in the 1920s, a family with twelve children was an anomaly, but these parents eschewed convention, followed their hearts, and discovered creative ways to deflect the pitying or disapproving reactions of others.

According to Frank Jr.’s and Ernestine’s account, their mother and father jointly decided to have a large family – an even dozen, discussing it on their honeymoon and making a pact to try to achieve their goal. With no twins, “Mother” successfully gave birth to and raised their hoped-for dozen.

The stories inside the 180 pages of Cheaper By the Dozen, albeit full of wry humor, are inextricably linked to the Frank’s and Lillian’s professional contributions. In contrast, the modern movie, Cheaper By the Dozen, released in 2003, starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, while charming, lacks the vital connection to the real-life parents who pioneered the field of motion study and engineering improvements; the modern movie dad is a football couch and the mother, an author, writes only about family life.

As a parent, “Dad” carried on the legacy of his own mother: “Dad’s mother, Grandma Gilbreth, believed that her children were fated to make important marks in the world and that her first responsibility was to educate them so they would be prepared for their rendezvous with destiny.” (Cheaper By the Dozen)

When financial privation steered young Frank away from his aspiration to attend MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), he made his own way, rising from bricklaying work to his eventual calling as an efficiency expert.

“Dad” couldn’t help but use his large family as a “laboratory” for his experiments in increasing productivity and making work easier. The most bizarre example included having his children’s tonsillectomies filmed to help improve surgical efficiency.

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The adult children who authored Cheaper By the Dozen seemed fond and proud of their parents, taking all the idiosyncrasies in stride:

“Dad offered his services to President Woodrow Wilson at the start of World War I with the following telegram: ‘Arriving Washington 7:03 p.m. train. If you don’t know how to use me, I’ll tell you how.’”

“Mother was a Phi Beta Kappa and a psychology graduate of the University of California. In those days women who were scholars were viewed with some suspicion. When Mother and Dad were married, the Oakland paper said: ‘Although a graduate of the University of California, the bride is nonetheless an extremely attractive young woman.’”

In her autobiography As I Remember, Lillian described herself as “shy and bookish”, yet she was the perfect partner for brilliant and ambitious Frank. Anna M. Lewis describes young Lillian as having“ a knack for time management and organization that was beginning to show itself. She would carefully calculate how long the streetcar trip was from home to school.” (Women of Steel and Stone: 22 Inspirational Architects, Engineers, and Landscape Designers)

The couple’s collaboration and mutual respect extended throughout their marriage. Frank convinced Lillian to get her doctorate in psychology after their first four children had been born.

SPOILER ALERT: The authors’ foreword in my edition of the novel warned me that tragedy loomed ahead for the family;  Frank died young, at age 55. The novel ends with this event and the heroic actions of his widow to carry the load of both their professional work and family life.

“Dad” had a bad heart and knowing his time was limited, set out to give his children the best home education possible. His was not a motivation of pure eccentricity, though many of his ideas seemed peculiar. “It was also why he had organized the house on an efficiency basis, so that it would operate smoothly without supervision; so that the older children would be responsible for the younger ones. He knew a load was going to be thrown on Mother, and he wanted to lessen it as much as he could.” (Cheaper By the Dozen)

After Frank’s death, Lillian continued to work in the industrial design field. In her research, she brought time motion and efficiency into the home and kitchen to find the one best way to perform household tasks. Among the many ideas Lillian implemented for aiding the handicapped, was a design of an ideal kitchen layout for the disabled homemaker or veteran. (Women of Steel and Stone)

cheaper by the dozen 1In later years, Lillian became a professor of management at Purdue University, received over twenty honorary degrees, and, above all, loved her family.

On the Dedication page of their heart-warming book, Frank Jr. and Ernestine offer a profound tribute to their parents:

“To Dad who only reared twelve children.“

“To Mother who reared twelve only children.”

The sequel, Belles On Their Toes, also authored by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, picks up with the family’s adventures after the death of their beloved “Dad”.

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, Children's Books, Classics, Humorous, Inspiration, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Boys Read? Are You Serious?

“Explore, build, conquer – you don’t have to tell a boy to do those things for the simple reason that it is his purpose. But it’s going to take risk, and danger, and there’s the catch. Are we willing to live with the level of risk that God invites us to?”

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, 2001:Thomas Nelson Publishers

Good books can help build the man. The young boy needs all the help he can get to rise up to the heights of his unique calling. Through stories that flesh out endurance, sacrifice, and fighting for the right, he can attain his destiny. A well-rounded male protagonist demonstrates to the young reader that success must be hard-won and involves taking risks and will inspire him to believe he can make a difference.

John Eldredge claims in Wild at Heart that “Life is not a problem to be solved; it is an adventure to be lived. That’s the nature of it and has been since the beginning when God set the dangerous stage for this high-stakes drama and called the whole wild enterprise good.  He rigged the world in such a way that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives, which is to say when we live by faith.  A man just won’t be happy until he’s got adventure in his work, in his love, and in his spiritual life.” (p. 238)

Fictional stories well-told can breathe on the embers that lie dormant in all boys and men, fanning the flames of their strength and power, and enabling them to rise up and do big things for their families and the good of others.

These great “boy books” offer plots and settings that show the resolution of a boy’s inner conflicts: “Do you think I can do this?” “Am I any good?” “Am I heroic?” Our world needs men who use their strength for the protection of others — men who overcome and walk out their bigger purpose.

The titles listed here represent a few stories that showcase a male character facing adventure, danger, and risk. My list is eclectic and loosely organized into recommended age categories. Keep in mind that often a good book will be a wonderful reading experiences for many age groups.

Pre-Teen:

The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis – each book offers a heroic and YOUNG protagonist, e.g. Peter, Edmund, Shasta, Eustace, Caspian

The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop – William is off on a quest into a fantasy world

Honus & Me by Dan Gutman – one of 5 “Baseball Card Adventures” – a boy goes back in time to meet his sports hero.

The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds – a young boy must defend his family against Indian attack

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh – a boy must find out for himself if there are bears on the mountain

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman – a spoiled prince and a commoner team up for adventures

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes – a silversmith apprentice in Revolutionary Era Boston finds his courage

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George – a runaway survives in New York’s Catskill Mountains

Mid-Teen:

The Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead – wonderful re-telling of King Arthur and Merlin

Call Me Francis Tucket by Brian Paulsen – a 14 year old faces trials in 1800’s American West

Hatchet by Brian Paulsen – a teenager must survive alone in the Canadian wilderness

Little Britches by Ralph Moody – a heart-warming saga of pioneer life in Montana in the 1800s

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare – a young boy faces dangers in Palestine at the time of Christ

Late Teen:

God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew – a Dutch missionary smuggles Bibles behind the Iron Curtain

Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester – a British naval midshipman endures hardships during the Napoleonic War

Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour – an escaped American soldier evades captures in Soviet Siberia

Treasure Island, Kidnapped, or The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson

Categories: Biography, Children's Books, Inspiration, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The Newbery Medal – Creative Children’s Literature

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In 1922, the Newbery Award became the first children’s book award in the world.  Named for 18th-century English bookseller John Newbery, the award fulfills the following purpose: “to encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels.”

A valuable aspect of the award is the honor it gives librarians, recognizing their life work to serve children’s reading interests. The panel of judges is made up of children’s librarians from pubic and private schools (members of the American Library Association). They choose the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. Although only a single book wins each year, several runners-up, listed as “Newberry Honor Books”, receive high marks and embossed seals on their covers as well.

The focus of the award – “original and creative work” – highlights two values I personally esteem in literature.   Writers and book publishers inundate children with copycat stories that get churned out in an attempt to follow the popularity flow. Movie producers often pursue the same “follow the leader” strategy to insure high box office sales in the film medium. In contrast, the Newbery Medal offers originality.

The first winner of the Newbery Medal was a history book, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon. Next up was the whimsical fantasy,The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting that won in 1923. Two stories which are more current and accessible due to recent book-to-movie efforts are the 1999 Winner: Holes by Louis Sachar and the 2004 Winner: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo.

I recently re-read the 1972 Newbery winner, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM by Robert C. O’Brien. This fantasy tale brings the reader into the lives of lab rats who escape their scientist captors and seek to establish their own society, one built upon self-reliance. The central tenet of their Great “Plan” is to live without stealing, unlike their rat ancestors.Mrs. Frisby

Mild-mannered Mrs. Frisby, the widow of lab mouse, Jonathan Frisby, steers her difficult course by the compass of familial love and finds unlikely allies in the rats of NIHM.

Mr. O’Brien wove a fantasy story that charms more than it scares the young reader. The author died only a few years after the publication of Mrs. Frisby, which makes me wonder what more he would have written given the opportunity. The ending of the book left me with several questions: What happened to the rats of NIMH; did they make a success of their new home in Thorn Valley? Did the Frisby mouse children grow up to do great exploits like their heroic father?

As I researched the Newbery Award for this blog post, I read the list of 92 winners out loud to my teen daughters and was chagrined to find that they only recognized 10% of the books on the list. I myself have missed out on numerous titles since I only read the Newbery books that were published when I was a child and then later those winners promoted on homeschool curriculum book lists.

Better get cracking!

Check out link to the Newbery list and send me a comment with your favorite winner! I would like to send out a prize – my first ever on pineneedlesandpapertrails- to the reader with the most Newbery titles read, so shoot me a total (honor system).

Update:  Winner Winner Chicken Dinner to blogger Susan Lea  of http://mimiswardrobe.wordpress.com who has read 76 of these titles!  Wow! Here is her response to this contest:  “I have read (or at least have them in our kids’ library) 76 of them. I noticed that there were several winners for Laura Ingalls Wilder, Susan Cook, and Madeline L’Engle. All of their books are favorites of mine, but my very favorite from that list has to be Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Snedeker. I imagine it’s one of the least-known (and hard to find), but I fell in love with it as a high school student, and my copy is highly-prized and will never be lent out! ”

http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal

http://ww.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberymedal

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Use Your Voice: Share a book by reading aloud

“Next to being hugged, reading aloud is probably the longest-lasting experience of childhood.”
Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook

read aloud

My maternal grandfather read to us  faithfully when we were young.  He owned the complete set of Beatrix Potter tales in old green-cloth hardbacks.  At bedtime,  I was given the privilege of choosing which one we would read. I can still remember the joy of running to the miniature bookshelf in the upstairs hallway which housed the treasures and the closeness I felt leaning against my grandfather as he read to us.

Years ago when my children became independent readers, I was inspired by the words of author Gladys Hunt to continue reading aloud: “What most parents do,… is stop sharing books as soon as a child can read alone. That makes reading a solitary happening, with no chance to talk about a book or discuss what it is saying. ” (Honey for a Teen’s Heart, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002).

Steve Demme, an inspirational homeschool speaker and founder of Math-U-See curriculum read at night to his four sons by positioning a chair in the hallway within earshot of his boys’ rooms and reading from there. I vividly remember when I was called on during a babysitting job to read aloud to five children at bedtime. They lined up on the couch and listened attentively while I read them the next chapter of their Narnia book. They knew where their mother had left off and they didn’t want to miss a night

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis may be a prime example of a book that is a pleasure to read aloud, and one that appeals to many age levels. I hold nothing against the movie version of this classic tale, but I do want to point out that they edit the original book. C.S.Lewis was a master of the English language.

Good literature is a pleasure to read aloud.  It rolls off the tongue and provides a wonderful opportunity for children to hear English used artistically and vividly.  It is vitally important to share your favorite childhood stories with your children.  By example, you can teach them to read with expression.  Let the younger ones participate and experience literature above their own reading level when you read something for the older children.

Another benefit of listening to books is the development of the imagination.  Encourage children to use the descriptions of place and plot to make a mental movie of what is happening in the book.  Doing the voices of the characters can be fun if there is interesting dialogue.  Also, the family member who is the usual narrator can take a break when other family members take a turn reading aloud.

During a recent school break, I pulled our family together with Dad as the reader, a practice we had neglected.  Our teen daughters participated, with some foot-dragging.  It was well worth it when my 14-year old said to her father: “Daddy, I love the sound of your reading voice.”  Trips, vacations, and sick days are all wonderful times to put in extra reading moments.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Emilie Buchwald

honey for a child's heart

Read-Aloud Resources:

Hunt, Gladys M.. Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

Hunt, Gladys M., and Barbara Hampton. Honey for a Teen’s Heart: Using Books to Communicate with Teens. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

Trelease, Jim. The Read-aloud Handbook. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1982.

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I loved this novel when I read it as a teenager in the late 1970’s and I hope I have passed on my affection for this story to my family.  First published in 1972, Watership Down, by British author Richard Adams, is a book about rabbits… 476 pages of rabbits to be exact.  According to Mr. Adams, the manuscript was rejected a total of seven times, all on the same grounds that older children would think the rabbits babyish and younger children would find its adult style unlikeable.

I am so glad that Richard Adams did not change a word!  His judgment was vindicated when the novel won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1972 and the Guardian Award for Children’s Literature in 1973.  Over forty years later, Watership Down is a beloved classic for young and old.

My local library’s edition of Watership Down published by Scribner in 2005 boasts a fascinating introduction by the author.  He recounts that he created the story for his young daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, entirely out of his imagination on a long-distance car journey.  His daughters insisted that he finish it and then later write it for publication.  “Naturally, I am glad that the book has been enjoyed by so large a public, and that it plainly has a wide appeal (although the reason for this was never clear to me).” p. xvi.

A motley and untried band of eleven young rabbits flee an established warren after hearing the doomsday prophecy of Fiver, who is the young brother of the novel’s main character, Hazel.  Rabbits are not meant to leave their routines and community.  These intrepid yearlings move through harrowing circumstances in their search for a safe haven in which to set up a new homestead. The plot is varied and exciting with great rising and fall action and many surprises – And that is all I am going to tell you about the plot, because you have to READ it!

Richard Adams uses the anthropomorphic style of Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book) to develop rabbit characters that think and talk, but can not do anything physically that real rabbits can not do.  Each rabbit has a finely drawn, individual personality.  “I took characteristics and features from real people I had met over the years.  To Hazel, I gave the qualities of an officer under whom I had served (in WW II).  He had the natural power of leadership.  He was not only brave but modest and retiring, yet with excellent judgment.” (p.xii Introduction, Watership Down, Scribner, 2005)  Bigwig, the staunch fighter of the group, is based on a Norwegian resistance fighter, Mr. Adams knew in the war.   Fiver, Hazel, Bigwig, Blackberry, Dandelion, Hawkbit, Pipkin, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Acorn, Silver: all are needed and yet each are unique.

This novel delves deeply into themes of leadership, belonging, bonding, and the importance of  the uniqueness and gifts in the individuals of a group.  To me, this is an echo of a biblical truth that shows up in the gospels: Jesus chooses twelve extremely diverse men as disciples,  and in Paul’s writing that admonishes Christians to accept and value one another: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Romans 12: 3-5 (italics added).  I suppose this is my favorite theme of the book.

Richard Adams, goodreads.com author page

Richard Adams, goodreads.com author page

Mr. Adams, born in 1920, is still going strong.  His grandson assisted him several months ago to answer online fan questions.  Mr. Adams expressed fascinating insights about his novel and gratitude for the many enthusiastic compliments from readers. “I’m still making up stories, reading and writing. I read anything I can find, spending at least 3 hours a day reading. I find this very stimulating for the imagination.” http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1n3quw/i_am_richard_adams_author_of_watership_down/

All editions in print have a lapine glossary (a list of rabbit language) developed by the author and a map of the North Hampshire region of England in which the novel is set.  As Mr. Adams commented in his recent online interview: “Lapine just occurred really. The point was that as the story was told, certain things that hadn’t got a word for them came up, so a word had to be invented to cover them, to mean what they meant. Owsla is a good example.”
In 2008, Italian painter Aldo Galli created over forty paintings in 2008 inspired by the novel and the artist’s hikes over the downs.  Mr. Adams chose Galli to illustrate Watership Down as the first-ever illustrated edition of the classic novel which was published in October 2012 by Scribner Classics Series to mark its fortieth anniversary.

Illustration by Aldo Galli

Mr. Adams, a lifelong student of natural history, describes in detail the flora and fauna of the downs of England with which he was so familiar.  It would a great pleasure to me to see a future edition published with an illustrated glossary of trees, birds, and wildflowers.

It is wonderful that Richard Adams is still with us.  My goal this year is to read his autobiography, The Day Gone By, write him a fan letter and read Shardik, a much darker story.

If you missed Watership Down, put it on your list of top ten novels to read in 2014 and then write me after you’ve read it to tell me what you think.

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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