Classics

The Newbery Medal – Creative Children’s Literature

Image

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

Advertisements
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

Return to Me: The Bible Comes Alive

I am a Bible reader. The Book of Books amazes and delights me with its inspiring psalms, challenging prophesies, and historical tales. It is a wonderful anthology of literature. Last year, I bought a One Year Chronological Bible (Tyndale House). It groups Bible books by their historical context and gave me a better understanding of how it all fits together.

Another tool to bring the Bible to life is reading well-researched historical fiction set in Biblical time periods. I read about Christian author Lynn Austin’s most recent novel Return to Me (published in September 2013 by Bethany House) from a literary blog I followed, “By the Book”: http://rbclibrary.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/book-review-return-to-me/
;

In this first installment of “The Restoration Chronicles”, Austin takes the events of the Biblical books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah and develops a detailed, authentic story of the return of the Jews to Jerusalem after a seventy-year captivity in Babylon (539 B.C.) Iddo is a survivor of the siege of Jerusalem and has terrible nightmares of his ordeal as a young child watching his loved ones die of starvation or by the sword.

After seventy years in Babylon, Iddo takes the opportunity offered by Cyrus the Persian, the new tolerant ruler of the Empire, to return with his wife and grandson, Zechariah to Israel to rebuild the Jewish temple and settle once more in his homeland. What follows is a pilgrimage of faith and restoration for Iddo and his family that is fraught with resistance from within and without.

This is not the first effort to recreate Biblical stories for the eight-time Christy award-winning author. Austin’s twin interests in history and archaeology launched her on a five-book series in 2005 that begins during the reign of Judah’s Kings Ahaz and Hezekiah as the Assyrian Empire is rampaging through the Middle East (732 B.C.). (“Chronicles of the Kings”: Gods and Kings, Strength of His Hands, Song of Redemption, Faith of My Fathers, and Among the Gods). In my opinion, the author’s graduate studies in Biblical Backgrounds and Archaeology and her travels to Israel lend authenticity to her novels. For more about the author, explore her website: http://www.lynnaustin.org

My research for this blog post lead me to some new options for biblical historical fiction: Sons of Encouragement by Francine Rivers, 2011, Tyndale House. In this all-in-one collection, Rivers illuminates the lives of Aaron, Caleb, Jonathan, Amos, and Silas—and shows how they acted in the shadow of God’s chosen leaders.” (christianbook.com). Another new novel, When Jesus Wept by Bodie Thoene, 2013, Zondervan Publishing looks at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through the eyes of his friend Lazarus of Bethany.

Through historical fiction, ancient characters take on flesh and blood and move off the pages and into our imagination, all with the result of inspiring us to know God more personally. How has the Bible come alive for you?

The Bible for Children:
Although many authors seek to expose young children to the Bible with wonderful editions complete with illustrations and easily understood prose, my personal favorite is The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories by Mary Batchelor. This book, published in 1995 by David C. Cook Publishers, offers much more than the handful of stories retold in Sunday School of Jonah and the Whale and David and Goliath.

Categories: Classics, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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.”

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, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Great Expectations Revisited

“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” Charles Dickens

Yet again, a classic novel has found purchase in our modern world through film.  “Great Expectations” opened November 8 in limited release, and cast Helen Bonham Carter as the creepy Miss Havisham, Ralph Fiennes as Abel Magwitch, Holliday Grainger as Estella, and Jeremy Irvine as Pip.

According to the movie critics from the filmrejects website, the movie stays true to Dickens’ novel, although the central mystery of who is Pip’s mysterious benefactor is revealed much earlier.  Their overview of the movie reiterates my point about movies and books: “Done well, a Great Expectations film can hit all the notes of Dickens’ novel, and the machinations of the book’s storyline can be so convoluted that a finely tuned visual companion can only help. (No, we’re not advocating the use of films instead of books here, but taken together, a fuller understanding is possible).”http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/features/romeo-and-juliet-and-great-expectations-film-adaptations.php

Charles Dickens’ 497-page novel spans the early years and adult life of main character, Pip. Fellow wordpress blogger Jessica of The Bookworm Chronicles nicely summarizes the plot:

“Great Expectations follows the life of a young orphaned boy nicknamed Pip. When we join young Pip he is living with his strict sister and her big-hearted husband Joe Gargery. At which point Pip has little to no expectations other than to join Joe as an apprentice in his smithy. A series of strange events and encounters are to set Pip on a completely different road though. As a young man, he is visited by a London lawyer who informs him that he has a secret benefactor who wishes to pay for Pip to become a gentleman. Pip moves to London with his great expectations looking to make a name for himself and finally claim the hand of the woman he loves.”

http://thebookwormchronicles.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/the-classics-club-great-expectations/

Reading Dickens’ novels can be a challenge because of the time commitment and mental energy required. Five hundred pages filled with English vocabulary not in use today may daunt the most courageous reader, but to be truly literate we must become familiar with the literature that makes up the references we encounter in coursework, speeches, movies, and books. Just to use a few examples from Dickens’ novels: When you hear that a person is a “Scrooge”, do you know what that means? To what does he refer in this quote: ““Bah,” said Scrooge, “Humbug.”? Do you know this famous line from another Dickens story? “Please, sir, I want some more.” (Oliver Twist holds out his tin plate and dares to request “seconds” from the miserly orphanage overseer.)

We came across a literary reference just this week from Oliver Twist in Alan Bradley’s second Flavia DeLuce mystery novel, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. The author described a female character as “The Nancy to his Bill”. I knew what Mr. Bradley meant about his character, Nia. She was just like Dickens’ “Nancy” who put herself under the sway of a powerful and unscrupulous man. In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham was jilted at the altar and seeks to use young and lovely Estella to take vengeance on the entire male gender. What a great cautionary tale to use to describe the damage that can be done by manipulating others and seeking revenge.

“Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham”, by John McLenan, published in 1859 by Harper’s Weekly.

The purpose of understanding literary references goes beyond simply feeling pride in our knowledge. We share these mentions with one another in order to explain, connect, and create context. We use common knowledge all the time, often simple instances like describing the power of a waterfall by saying it roared like Niagara Falls.

As a person of an older generation, I possess huge deficits in my own literary background, but that just means I still have a lot to learn. How much more do younger generations need exposure to Shakespeare’s characters and quotes, and those of great authors like Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, A.A. Milne, and Daniel Defoe.

What does it mean when you are “tilting at windmills”? Who is someone who is like “a man, Friday”? What does it mean to have a “Capulet-Montague” type of situation? Whose signature exclamation is “Oh, bother!” What does it mean to “chase a white rabbit”?

What literary references have you run across lately? I would love to hear about them.

http://www.litlovers.com published great discussion questions on Great Expectations: http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/402-great-expectations-dickens?start=3

” alt=”

Categories: British novels, Classics, Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Hobbit: “Have your cake and eat it too”

the hobbit alan lee covertThe Hobbit is a wonderful story which began as a bedtime tale J.R.R. Tolkien dreamed up for his children. Although the book was first published in 1937, over seventy years ago, the current generation is receiving the same delight from the adventures of an unlikely hero, Bilbo Baggins the hobbit, and a great supporting cast of characters. This classic story didn’t need to have new life breathed into it, but movie director, Peter Jackson has done just that with three feature films produced by New Line Cinema.

I earnestly desire to “have my cake and eat it too” when it comes to loving a book and then having a movie made of it, but the movie must do it justice. The fact that this beloved book merited the making of three feature-length films with big, big budgets gave me hope that Tolkien’s story has been faithfully depicted. The second movie released in December 2013 picks up the story at chapter seven with Bilbo and his dwarf companions finding safety with Beorn the skin changer before they enter Mirkwood and its many dangers. This second movie is chockfull of compelling characters: The Elvenking, the wily dragon Smaug, and Bard of Lake-town.

My first impulse is to recommend that you read the book before seeing the movie so that you receive the story as the author intended it to unfold – the plot intact with detailed descriptions and the complete dialogue that define the characters. Also, this particular story begs to be read aloud. Last year, I read it to my teen girls before we went to see the first movie (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”).

However, there have been plenty of times that I read the book after I saw the movie simply because I didn’t have time or I wasn’t aware that a book existed. In those cases, reading the book after the movie became a worthwhile endeavor because as an interested movie fan, I received the equivalent of additional special features: it’s as if the book contained deleted scenes, and background information that the movie didn’t cover. Peter Jackson like many moviemakers before him has succumbed to the temptation to alter characters, shorten dialogues, and add entirely new scenes, mostly in this case to heighten the danger and suspense.  Due to these changes, I am not fully satisfied with the movies so far.

tolkien with pipe

The Hobbit is the kind of book that contains beautiful words – fluid, funny and moving, that seem to flow directly from the mouth of the author to our ears. I imagine Tolkien sitting by the fireside with his pipe in his hand, weaving the magic with his gravely voice, and I am the child at his feet:

“The nights were the worst. It then became pitch-dark – not what you call pitch-dark, but really pitch: so black that you really could see nothing. Bilbo tried flapping his hand in front of his nose, but he could not see it at all. Well, perhaps it is not true to say that they could see nothing: they could see eyes. They slept all closely huddled together, and took it in turns to watch; and when it was Bilbo’s turn he would see gleams in the darkness round them, and sometimes pairs of yellow or red or green eyes would stare at him from a little distance, and then slowly fade and disappear and slowly shine out again in another place.” (p. 132)

I highly recommend the hardcover edition of The Hobbit with color illustrations by Alan Lee published in 1997 by Houghton Mifflin. The story of the Ring that Bilbo finds continues in The Lord of the Rings as evil forces tighten their stranglehold on Middle-earth. Its inhabitants must rise to even greater heights of bravery in the ultimate tale of good versus evil.

Here is a wonderful blog article on Tolkien’s perspective of his work as revealed through his correspondence: apilgriminnarnia.com.

The Hobbit movie 2“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (released December 2012)

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (released  December 13, 2013)

“The Hobbit: There and Back Again” (released December 17, 2014)

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

I Want To Be Like Mrs. Mike

“If Katherine Mary Flannigan who passed away years ago knew Mrs. Mike continues to have readers in the twenty-first century how amazed and pleased she would be.”
(excerpted from the Introduction of Mrs. Mike, 2002 Berkley Publishing Group)

I have a new heroine. She lived over a hundred years ago and bravely traveled from cultured turn-of-the-century Boston to the frontier town of Calgary, Alberta at the tender age of sixteen in order to recover from pleurisy. Katherine Mary O’Fallon not only adjusted to life on the edge of civilization, she pushed deeper into the Canadian wilderness wrapped in blankets on a dogsled led by her new husband, Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Mike Flannigan.

Mrs. Mike, first published in 1947 after interviews with the main character and extensive research, provides some wonderful romantic stomach flutters and broad grins at the couple’s courtship and early married life. But like the territorial movement deeper into the unknown, the story dives deep and quick into the harsh realities of wilderness life in the early 1900’s. The authors, Benedict and Nancy Freedman, did not spare the reader. Somehow I managed to survive this story without a completely shattered heart.

Mounties were the ultimate multi-taskers filling the offices of policeman, priest, and doctor in the remote outposts of the Canadian wilderness. The Flannigans are called on again and again to succor the dying, bind up those wounded by wild animals, and face their own tragedies. Kathy Flannigan shows the reader the miracle of starting over while keeping her heart open to love and faith. Like Job of the Bible, she doesn’t curse God and die. Not all of the book’s characters manage this which underscores the miracle of Kathy’s life.

I confess that I have spent much of my suburban life trying to avoid pain and whining at any adversity. The life of Kathy Flannigan humbles me, as does the story of the authors who faced illness and setbacks of their own. Journalist Peggy Orenstein, writes of the Freedmans in her article entitled “The Story of My Life”: “As children of the Great Depression, they never much trusted wealth or stability.” (O Magazine, December 2007). Orenstein read the novel to her husband and then asked him what he had taken away from the book. “That’s easy”, he said, with a half smile “Life is hard. But love is strong.” http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/Mrs-Mike-Changed-My-Life

Photo Credit: Travis Roberts

Photo Credit: Travis Roberts

We still have much to survive today. While childhood diseases such as small pox or diphtheria are prevented by modern-day vaccination, American lives are still at risk due to cancer, natural disasters, traffic accidents, addiction, mental illness, and suicide. Are we overcomers who can go on – seeing the light at the end of our tunnels and trusting that God is good?

“Originally published in 1947, Mrs. Mike was a main selection of the Literary Guild, serialized in the Atlantic Monthly, condensed in Reader’s Digest, appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, and translated into twenty-seven languages.” (Introduction, p. xxvi, Mrs. Mike, published 2002 by Berkely Trade)

Kathy’s true story is the basis for the novel which means some events were fictionalized by the authors. Not much research is available on the real life characters of Katherine and Mike Flannigan; although accounts state Sergeant Mike Flannigan died of a ruptured appendix in 1944. Kathy remarried and died in 1954 in Calgary, Alberta. Authors Benedict and Nancy Freedman passed away within the past three years.

I hope I whetted your appetite to read this lyrical, poignant novel for the first-time or over again to be inspired to truly live and love.

Other Notes:
Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleural membrane which surrounds the lungs and results in symptoms of chest pain when inhaling or exhaling, shortness of breath, cough and fever.

Lesser Slave Lake is located in the current-day province of Alberta, Canada

Categories: Classics, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Books for Girls: Timeless Virtues

Pineneedlesandpapertrails

One of my personal tests to determine whether a book heroine is “timeless” is if you, as a reader, remember her name, not just what she did.

For some of our most beloved female protagonists we even know the last name: Sara Crewe, Kit Tyler, Christy Huddleston, Jo March,  Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, Lucy Pevensie. Mary Lennox, Maria Merryweather, Fern Arable and Charlotte the Spider.  I feel as if I know these characters. 

As my daughter Rachel says, “They are like real people that I have in my cell phone contact list.  I feel as if I could call them up to ask them for advice”.

Fiery-tempered, imaginative Anne  (“with an e”) of Anne of Green Gables finds what her hearts longs for -belonging in her adopted family and community.  She wins the life-long friendship of Diana, whom she calls her “bosom friend”.  We watch Anne grow up and see…

View original post 478 more words

Categories: Chick lit, Classics, Girl Fiction, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Books for Boys: Stories for the Wild Hearts

Pineneedlesandpapertrails

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?”

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.

Good stories well-told can breathe on the embers that lie dormant in all boys and men to…

View original post 422 more words

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment