Humorous

International Travel Through Literature: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series

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“The quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, the distinctive style of the author – that’s the best I can do by way of defining a good book. When you find one, you recognize it.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for A Child’s Heart

One of the primary reasons I read fiction and go to the movies is so that I can travel. Vicariously of course. I used to actually go to foreign places: Brasil, Honduras, Israel, to name a few. Now I am bound to American soil with many responsibilities so I “go places” through books and film. Recently, one of my favorite literary trips has been to Botswana, Africa.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series set in this southern African country and first published in 2007. The first book in the series, entitled The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency starts a wonderful journey into the fascinating world of memorable and humorous characters.

The series is fairly slow-paced, avoids gruesome descriptions of murders, and does not thrill with conspiracies and thwarting “take-over-the-world” type villains. However, it is appealing because it takes the reader deep into the world of cultural Botswana.

Bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, born in Zimbabwe and a law professor in Scotland, worked for a time in the setting where he helped set up a law school at the University of Botswana.

Though not necessarily a series only for women, the main character, Precious Ramotswe, is a middle-aged woman who opens a detective agency because “a woman sees more than a man sees”. In her own words, Mma Ramotswe claims: “It is my duty to help…. my brothers and sisters…solve the mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do.” (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, p. 4)

One of the cultural treasures I received from these stories is how Mma Ramotswe and her rich cast of supporting characters show the universal need for kindness and courtesy in human relationships. My teenage daughters and I greet each other in the morning now with the customary Batswanan words: “Have you slept well, Mma?” a greeting that is used whatever time of day a stranger, acquaintance or friend is encountered.

To my delight, Alexander McCall Smith is a prolific author.  He continues to write stories in this lovely series.

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A film adaptation, directed by Anthony Minghella, and produced by the Weinstein Company, premiered on HBO in March 2009. I am frustrated that nothing more has been produced, since this first effort was excellent! Jill Scott is wonderfully cast as Mma Ramotse.

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Novels Written in Epistolary Format:The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The_Guernsey_Literary_and_Potato_Peel_Pie_SocietyRecently, I found “a window into reality” by means of the novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a heart-warming novel written in epistolary form (written correspondence between the book’s characters). The setting is the Channel Island of Guernsey immediately following World War Two. Novelist Mary Ann Shaffer, an American from Martinsburg, West Virginia, first encountered Guernsey on a vacation trip. She fell in love with its charming beauty and discovered that, shockingly, this small piece of British soil was occupied for five horrific years by the Nazis.

Shaffer thoroughly researched this dark period in the history of the Channel Islands and the result is this eye-opening account of the oppression that the Guernsey islanders experienced under the cruel hand of the Third Reich. Mixed in with the bitter tragedy is plenty of humor, however. The Guersney Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (GLAPPPS) began as a cover for an illegal pig roast which some islanders didn’t want the Nazis to discover. The plot develops as the main character, Juliet Ashton, known in London as a light-hearted journalist, seeks a new book idea. Juliet has just experienced her first literary success with the publication of Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War (a collection of her weekly newspaper columns written during the war).

What begins as a self-centered career opportunity to observe and write about the Guernsey islanders becomes much more as Juliet’s heart is drawn irresistibly into the lives of the unlikely comrades of the GLAPPPS. The book includes letters from numerous members of the Society to Juliet describing the wrenching deprivation, starvation conditions, and mistreatment during the occupation. The quirky characters and sense of community pour off the pages of the letters, as do the sweetness of loving sacrifice and romance.

Author Mary Ann Shaffer lived much of her life as a librarian and editor. This is her first (and last) novel. The book still needed revisions when Mary Ann became terminally ill. Annie Barrows, the author’s niece, stepped in to finish the manuscript for the publisher. Sadly, Ms. Shaffer passed away in February 2008 at the age of 73 – able only to see the publication of her novel in England; not in the United States. Ms. Barrows describes her aunt’s choice of the letter form for her novel:

“My aunt thought it would be easy and those are the types of books she liked to read. We loved reading people’s letters and diaries. I think we were born snoops. And of course, writing the book did not turn out to be easy.” (The Journal [Martinsburg, West Virginia] August 2008)

guernsey #6Another notable epistolary novel is 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 written. In 2009, Focus on the Family produced a wonderful Radio Theatre edition of The Screwtape Letters with the vocal talents of Andy Serkis (Gollum).

Guernsey #3On a more light-hearted note, the children’s book, Little Wolf’s Book of Badness (the first book in a series by Ian Whybrow) is a collection of hilariously misspelled and illustrated letters home from a well-behaved little wolf cub who is sent away on purpose to become “bad” – as wolves should be – at Cunning College for Brute Beasts under the tutelage of Uncle Bigbad.

In addition, non-fiction books that are records of written correspondence are another excellent way to see into the lives of people. I recently re-read a novel published in 1970 which chronicles twenty years of actual correspondence between New York screenwriter Helene Hanff and the London antiquarian bookstore staff members who helped her find out-of-print books. 84, Charing Cross Road is full of humor and pathos.guernsey #5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My renewed interest in epistolary books also reminds me to read my Bible epistles as letters. They were composed to someone and I dearly wish we had access to some of the answers the biblical authors must have received. For example, the apostle Paul’s response from his letter to the Philippians (Chapter 4) may have run something like:

“Dearest Paul, Euodia and I have made up and have started a weaving business together… Love, Syntyche”.

 

 

Categories: Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Want to Meet Jan Karon

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I am a fan.  I hope not a crazy one, but I do have favorite celebrities that I follow and admire. As often as not, they are authors, not actors (though I have my preferences in that category, too).

Jan Karon is at the tippy top of my list.  She began writing her Mitford novels later in life, and it shows – they run over with her wisdom, humor, and pain.

I thought she had wrapped up the stories, but miracles do still happen and Ms. Karon began to write again in 2014 (Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good).

For you Mitford fans out there, you will understand the great joy I experienced knowing that I would finally learn what happened to Dooley and Lacy.  They deserve their own story and so, it was with intense delight, that I breezed through the most recent Mitford novel, published in 2015, entitled Come Rain or Come Shine in which they are the key characters. Good old Father Tim is still front and center, like a well-loved grandfather.  Cynthia still sparkles, but Dooley and Lacey “take the cake”.

I offer no plot description.  I can’t breathe a word more in case I would spoil it for you.  Just read it.  Catch up with the series first, of course.  I order you to do so.

Summer is coming and these books are perfectly designed for the open reading venues of beaches, hammocks, and lakeside docks.

Karon’s Mitford novels also got me through some hard times.    I have inhaled five in a row this Spring after a  complicated surgery and a long rehabilitation. They are the best medicine I know for sorrow, disillusionment, or illness.

Enjoy! Happy Reading!

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Categories: Chick lit, Christian Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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

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 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):

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“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

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: Jan Karon Invites us to Return to Mitford

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person: having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them out.  Just as they are – chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” Geo. Eliot 1819-1880

Back in March 2014 I blogged again on author Jan Karon, recommending the Mitford companion book Patches of Godlight. Here I reprint those words of my post about the Mitford series that I now cheerfully “eat”:

“Jan Karon has finished writing about Mitford, so for those of us who have come to the end of the novels, this volume and the Mitford Bedside Companion help us manage our feelings of loss.” (https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/patches-of-godlight-companion-book-to-jan-karons-mitford-years-series/)

With great jubilation I now type the following: Ms. Karon wrote another novel in the Mitford series, published on September 2, entitled Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good. Promoted as the tenth Mitford novel, it comes in chronological order as the 13th about Father Tim Kavanaugh. (See publication list below.)

If I knew the author personally I would bring her a bouquet of two dozen roses of her favorite hue and kneel down to kiss her hand after laying the flowers across her arms. Since I am simply one of her millions of fans, I humbly offer this glowing book recommendation in lieu of flowers to show her my gratitude for returning to Mitford to give us another wonderful story.

Reprinted with permission Photo Credit: Candace Freeland

Reprinted with permission
Photo Credit: Candace Freeland

2005 was the year the penultimate Mitford novel was published (Light from Heaven), yet Ms. Karon masterfully and seamlessly brings Father Timothy Kavanaugh and his wife, Cynthia, back, in place and time, to the small town of Mitford, North Carolina in Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good immediately after their exhausting travels in Ireland (In the Company of Others, pub. 2011)

Andrea Larson, a goodreads.com reviewer and a Readers’ Advisor at a public library in suburban Chicago, summarized the main theme and plot lines of the newest novel:

“This may be one of my favorite book titles ever. After all, isn’t it what we all wish for? And if you’re a Father Tim fan, you’ll know that he has, in fact, gotten this wish. He’s finally back in Mitford, the idyllic North Carolina mountain town that is the scene of the first nine books in the series, with his lovely wife Cynthia and the eccentric cast of characters we’ve come to know so well. But although he’s back at home, Father Tim’s life is not the same. He’s no longer the rector of Lord’s Chapel, the local Episcopal church, and he must now figure out how he wants to spend his time in retirement. Without his calling, he’s a bit at sea, but as always, somehow events conspire to help him find his way.

Karon has an incredible gift for illuminating the sacred in the everyday, and she does it with her usual brilliance in this book. Ordinary life becomes something greater. Meaningful quotes appear on the windows of the town bookstore. A visit to the Children’s Hospital precipitates a turnaround in the delinquent behavior of one of Father Tim’s teenage charges. A wayward priest earns forgiveness from his flock. Karon’s trademark gentle humor is also ever-present – one recurring theme is the opening of a new spray-tan machine at Fancy Skinner’s beauty salon, which goes over like gangbusters, much to Father Tim’s dismay.”

Father Tim manages to profoundly influence the lives of friends and relatives in the community. However, this main character, albeit central, is not like some Superman, saving the day all by himself, with superhuman strength. The entire community of Mitford struggles to answer the question put so baldly by intrepid journalist Vanita Bentley of the local Mitford Muse newspaper: “Does Mitford Still Take Care of Its Own?” The 511-page novel wrestles with that question because people are in trouble and the town is neglected.

Echoes of this important query reverberate within me: Do I care about others? Is my community intact, thriving, and growing? Am I a contributor to this growth?

“Hope springs eternal” in Jan Karon’s novels, yet not because life is idyllic. Do you realize how intense are the themes the author weaves through the stories set in the “sweet small town” of Mitford? (Marital infidelity, alcoholism, clinical depression, schizophrenia, sex addiction, cancer, and child abuse.) And yet, we readers do not finish the book and close the cover despairing. Why not?

Because, like Victor Hugo, Jan Karon subtly yet steadily tells us, through each situation in Mitford, that God is at work, and  often through human intermediaries: “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” (Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables)

People can, and will, rise to new heights of sacrifice to help others. Do you believe this? I do. I am strengthened by Ms. Karon’s books to do my part and to have faith that God is doing His with great effectiveness and love.

Here is my favorite blog comment from my original post on Mitford https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/have-you-been-home-lately-at-home-in-mitford-by-jan-karon/: “Jan Karon is one of my favorites. She can walk you into another life from the first word on the page. I loved each person that she introduced to me on our journeys together, and cringed at the mishaps and felt embarrassment when they did. Ms Karon has the magic. Father Tim has my devotion. I walk away from each visit with Father Tim with a sermon in my heart”. http://blessedx5ks.wordpress.com

PRIZE FOR BEST COMMENT: I will send a free copy of the 20th Anniversary edition of At Home in Mitford to whoever writes the best comment on this post.

The Mitford series novels in order of publication: At Home in Mitford (1994), A Light in the Window (1995), These High, Green Hills (1996), Out to Canaan (1997), A New Song (1999), A Common Life (2001), In This Mountain (2002), Shepherds Abiding (2003), Light From Heaven (2005), Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014)

The Father Tim novels: Home to Holly Springs (2008), In the Company of Others (2011)

Author’s website: http://www.mitfordbooks.com

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Peter Rabbit … and His Many Friends

I think I must have English vocabulary on my mind since my children are in the SAT taking years. We have many resources to augment our own vocabularies and those of our kids. One such treasure trove is the work of Beatrix Potter. Over one hundred years ago, an English gentlewoman named Beatrix Potter pioneered in the field of children’s literature as both an artist and storyteller.  Miss Potter brought animal characters to life with exquisitely detailed watercolor illustrations that gave them unique anthropomorphic personalities and quaint, creative little outfits. Her stories pulse with gentle humor, vivid word choices, and complex plots, all of which are elements of children’s literature that we still need to treasure and emulate today.

Our children and children’s children will benefit from each tale with its moral lesson and rich English vocabulary. I chose my five favorites and furnish an illustration, quote, and moral lesson for each.

#1 The Tale of Peter Rabbit (published by Frederick Warne in 1902) – Peter disobeys his mother and ventures into Mr. McGregor’s garden to filch vegetables. The suspenseful chase through the garden patch is designed to strike terror into the heart of the child reader, but the intensity is mellowed by the help Peter receives from other animals, as well as his eventual escape.

Beatrix Potter #1 “Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.”

Implore (v.): to make a very serious or emotional request to someone

Moral lesson: Listen to those wiser than we are about danger. Disobedience has consequences.

#2 The Tale of Jeremy Fisher (1906) – Jeremy Fisher the frog faces danger after he punts out on his lily pad boat to fish in his pond for minnows to offer to his dinner guests. A predatory trout swallows him whole but spits him out again after tasting his macintosh.

“And while Mr. Jeremy sat disconsolately on the edge of his boat – sucking his sore fingers and peering down into the water – a much worse thing happened; a really frightful thing it would have been, if Mr. Jeremy had not being wearing a macintosh!”

Disconsolately (adv.): dejectedly or in a downcast manner Beatrix Potter #2

Moral lesson: Dangers lurk, but we are often spared. Be careful when taking risks, think things through, and be grateful for the safety of home.

#3  The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910) – Mrs. Tittlemouse keeps an exceptionally tidy house as a result of her diligent, slightly obsessive effort. Her cleaning day is disrupted by several uninvited guests who dirty her house and cause her distress. After she shoos them out, the little mouse creates an environment in which to offer hospitality on her own terms, treating even her most impolite intruder with kindness.

“Mrs. Tittlemouse was a most terribly tidy particular little mouse, always sweeping and dusting the soft sandy floors.”

Particular (adj.): having very definite opinions about what is good or acceptable Moral lesson: Having boundaries in one’s personal space and with belongings is very important, yet one can set boundaries without being harsh or unkind.

Beatrix Potter #3 #4 The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (1908) – Jemima Puddle duck is very naive and foolishly trusts the “foxy gentleman” who offers to help her achieve her heart’s desire to lay and hatch her own eggs. (The farmer keeps taking them away.)  Jemima even allows the gentlemen with the whiskers to arrange a duck feather bed in his shed as her nest.

“He led the way to a very retired, dismal-looking house amongst the fox-gloves.”

Retired (adj.): secluded

“Jemima Puddle-duck was a simpleton: not even the mention of sage and onions made her suspicious.”

Simpleton (n.): a person lacking in common sense Moral lesson: Choose carefully who to trust and pay attention to warning signs of untrustworthiness in the behavior of others.Beatrix Potter #5

#5 The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909) – Peter Rabbit’s cousin, Benjamin Bunny, grows into an irresponsible adult and starts a large family he cannot support.  Benjamin takes his hungry children to Mr. McGregor’s rubbish heap to eat a charity meal of old vegetables.  After the father and children fall asleep, Mr. McGregor discovers them and captures them to give to his wife as the ingredients for a rabbit pie. With the help of Mrs. Tittlemouse, they are rescued.

“They had a large family, and they were very improvident and cheerful.”

Improvident (adj.): not providing or saving for the future : not wise or sensible regarding money

“The little rabbits smiled sweetly in their sleep under the shower of grass; they did not awake because the lettuces had been so soporific.”

Soporific (adj.): causing or tending to cause sleep

Moral lesson: Being sensible about money and planning for the future have great value because irresponsibility has clear negative consequences. However, we often have second chances and the help of others even after we have made poor choices. Beatrix Potter #4

Did you receive an education from author Beatrix Potter in both imagination and English turns of phrase? I contend they are not out-dated, even though they may be old-fashioned. Let’s enjoy these timeless tales and pass them on to the next generation. I welcome your comments about your favorite Beatrix Potter stories and the lessons you see embedded in them.

I recently discovered Apply Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes and Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes, two little volumes of charming poems.

Movie Moment: I enjoyed the 2006 film, Miss Potter (PG), starring Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor about the author’s personal and professional life. Her love of the Lake District in England led to land conservation efforts that have preserved thousands of acres. All of Beatrix Potter’s cherished animal friends still have their holes, stream banks, forests, and meadows to inhabit.

Categories: Classics, Girl Fiction, Humorous, 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.

cheaper by the dozen 2

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

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

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