Fantasy

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.

 

 

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

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Don’t Go Alone

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (African proverb)

Lord of the RingsThis is my 58th Pine needles and Paper trails blog post and I am finally writing about my favorite book of all time. Why did I put off publicly declaring my eternal love for the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Most likely because I was certain my limited vocabulary and imperfect writing could never do justice to J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece.

Here goes.

The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the trilogy entitled “The Lord of the Rings”, was first published in 1954 by J.R.R. Tolkien, a literary giant and a close friend of C.S. Lewis (“The Chronicles of Narnia”). These men produced fantasy stories that profoundly impacted their own generation and ours, and set the bar high for all fantasy writers who came after them.

If you enjoyed the movies directed by Peter Jackson, many more delights await you in the novels. In my opinion, the movies were brilliantly cast and filmed with breathtaking cinematography, but were disappointingly truncated because this tale is so intricate.

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Entire characters, locations, and action in the narrative were ruthlessly hacked off on the cinematic chopping block, never to be brought to life on the silver screen. I understand the filmmaker’s limitations. However, to honor Tolkien’s life work, we simply must read the entire narrative (or listen to an unabridged audio version).

I love the way Tolkien develops each character and shows the reader the complex relationships between them. One example of this rich character development is that the first “fellowship” in The Fellowship of the Ring consists of the hobbits who band together to take the Ring from its hidden life in the Shire to Rivendell to gain the wisdom of elves and men.

Lord of the Rings 5

Frodo Baggins, our unlikely hero, believes he must go alone and tries to sneak off on his journey, bravely risking his life. However, the original story directly contradicts the movie scenes because his hobbit friends conspire to help him: loyal Samwise (“Sam”) Gamgee and three other hobbits: Meriadoc (“Merry”) Brandybuck  , Peregrine (“Pippin”) Took, and Fredegar (“Fatty”) Bolger.

When Frodo discovers what his faithful friends have planned, he protests:

“’Sam!’ cried Frodo, feeling that amazement could go no further, and quite unable to decide whether he felt angry, amused, relieved, or merely foolish.

’Yes, sir!’ said Sam. ‘Begging your pardon, sir! But I meant no wrong to you, Mr. Frodo, nor to Mr. Gandalf for that matter, He has some sense, mind you; and when you said go alone, he said ‘no! take someone as you can trust.’

‘But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo.

Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘ It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid – be we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 118)

The hobbits hope to escape the terrifying Black Riders and arrive safely in the Elven sanctuary to bring the Ring of power to those who would form an effective plan to keep the weapon away from Sauron, the Dark Lord. “Fatty “ stays behind in the Shire to play his part in a less perilous way.

The Lord of the Rings 3

I forewarned my teenaged daughter when she began reading the trilogy that Tolkien was given to lengthy descriptions of flora, fauna, rocks, paths and streams. I explained that the adventure was mostly lived out on foot and it took an excruciatingly long time to get from one location to another. This literary device communicates to the reader that the quest was arduous.  Unlike many modern novels, the protagonists sleep and eat and drink along the way, depicting the real pace of life and their human frailty.

If you decide to take on the challenge of reading the trilogy and “do the math”, roughly 400-500 pages per book times three novels, it will require a serious time commitment. Not to brag, but I have done so three times. I believe I am ready for my fourth; it’s just that wonderful.

My favorite edition of the trilogy was published in 2002 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The hardcover books boast beautiful color illustrations by Alan Lee who explained his artistic style:

“In illustrating The Lord of the Rings I allowed the landscapes to predominate. In some of the scenes the characters are so small they are barely discernible. This suited my own inclinations and my wish to avoid, as much as possible, interfering with the pictures being built up in the reader’s mind, which tends to be more closely focused on characters and their inter-relationships. I felt my task lay in shadowing the heroes on their epic quest, often at a distance, closing in on them at times of heightened emotion but avoiding trying to re-create the dramatic highpoints of the text.” Alan Lee

Lord of the Rings 4

The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Categories: British novels, Classics, Fantasy, Inspiration, Read Aloud, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Screwtape Letters – More from C.S. Lewis for Narnia Fans

screwtape 1C.S. Lewis may be best known for his seven children’s novels called The Chronicles of Narnia (which I adore by the way and have blogged on a few times already). However, another jewel in the crown of his literary and apologetic achievements is the notable epistolary novel The Screwtape Letters. Author C.S. Lewis masterfully composed letters from the fictional demon “Uncle Screwtape” to his nephew “Wormwood”. Screwtape offers diabolical advice on how to tempt Wormwood’s human assignment. Lewis writes letters solely from Screwtape’s perspective and cleverly alludes to what Wormwood has previously written.

Although the book was written for adults, teen readers may find themselves able to comprehend the underlying truths: “These letters from veteran devil Screwtape to his novice nephew Wormwood shed more humbling light on the spiritual weaknesses of people than they do on the state of supernatural beings. Wit and wisdom combine to aid us all to discern better the traps of the Evil One.” Honey for a Teen’s Heart by Barbara Hampton and Gladys Hunt

Our family enjoyed listening to the wonderful 2009 Focus on the Family Radio Theatre production of The Screwtape Letters with the vocal talents of Andy Serkis who played the character of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films.

One must continually keep in mind that C.S. Lewis’ used the irony of “hearing from a devil” to stir our minds and hearts to encounter old truths in a fresh way. Hopefully, the following excerpts of the wit and wisdom of C.S. Lewis may whet your appetite to read or re-read this classic. (Screwtape refers to God as “the Enemy” in all his letters):

screwtape 3

“At present the Enemy says ‘Mine’ of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say ‘Mine’ of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest.”

“All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged.”

“He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. In a word, the Future, is of all things, the thing least like eternity – for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”

“The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriage are most likely.”

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground.”

“He would therefore have them continually concerned with eternity…or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”

Several articles from C.S. Lewis aficionado, Brenton Dickieson of www.apilgriminnarnia.com offer a more in-depth look at the Scewtape Letters. http://apilgriminnarnia.com/2014/01/20/impossible-beauty/

Categories: British novels, Classics, Fantasy, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Divergent by Veronica Roth– Pineneedles Goes Popular

Veronica Roth’s first published novel Divergent (publication 2011) hit the young adult fiction world with a great splash. Following it are two more novels in the trilogy: Insurgent and Allegiant. I have only read Divergent, so I beg my readers to refrain from imbedding “spoilers” about the plot line or fate of the characters in your comments.

Divergent is about a young woman named Beatrice Prior (“Tris”) who lives in a futuristic Chicago that is divided in to five factions called Dauntless, Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, and Candor. Each faction is dedicated to cultivating a particular virtue in its members: bravery (Dauntless), selflessness (Abnegation), intelligence (Erudite), compassion (Amity), and honesty (Candor). Tris grew up in Abnegation, where she has always felt stifled, but at the age of sixteen, she will have the opportunity to choose which faction she wants to belong to for the rest of her life –but if she leaves Abnegation, she’ll also have to leave her family, and there’s no going back.” Veronica Roth, www.veronicarothbooks.com

Divergent

The dystopian world created by Roth features a re-organized government in war-ravaged Chicago that works tirelessly to keep order, but allows for little free will and the protagonist, Tris, needs more and is more than boxed in conformity. As the tale unfolds, her divergence shakes the entire foundation of this skewed society.

Tris’s faction trainer and love interest, Tobias “(Four”), explains his epiphany about the flaw in the Faction system: “’I think we’ve made a mistake,’ he says softly. ‘We’ve all started to put down the virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don’t want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest.’ He clears his throat. ‘I continually struggle with kindness.’” (Divergent, p. 405)

Numerous other themes run through this young adult series that I look forward to processing, including the questions: what is our core identity? how do we obtain the freedom to grow in it?

It looks like Roth got ahead of herself while studying for her creative writing degree at Northwestern University as her author bio reads: “while she was a student she often chose to work on the story that would become Divergent instead of doing her homework”. This quirky comment inspires me as an author to write creatively in the midst of other responsibilities.

Roth continues to pour forth stories set in her futuristic world, told from the perspective of Tobias: Free Four, The Transfer, The Initiate, The Son, and The Traitor.

Also available for Divergent fans is the movie of the same name released in March 2014 and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Ansel Elgort and a stunning cast of excellent actors and actresses. I was one of the “see the movie first” fans, and then played catch up by reading the novel.

divergent moviehttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1840309/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

As an endnote, I would like to promote the value of cultural literacy, different from literacy in general, that allows us to interact knowledgeably with others in the broader world around us. Although I have parameters regarding what I expose myself to in popular movies, media and books, many offerings from these sources excel in describing what is happening in the minds and hearts of our fellow world citizens and give me the means of connecting with people of different ages and beliefs.

Please note: unlike other books I have recommended, this novel has an element of sensuality as the “chemistry” between the main characters is described in several scenes.

 

Categories: Chick lit, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 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

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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

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

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