Read Aloud

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.

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

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

Funny and Family-Oriented: Hank the Cowdog

John R. Erickson

Meeting an author in person is always a delight.  John R. Erickson, best known as the creator of the Hank the Cowdog series, walked out in front of the crowd of parents and kids at our conference with a banjo slung over his shoulder and an honest-to-God BIG Texan cowboy hat.  His seminar on writing and creativity was a long-series of tales and songs that had the entire crowd laughing.

Mr. Erickson embodies the writer’s adage to “write what you know”, having been raised in the Texan panhandle and worked as a ranch hand.  His quirky animal and human characters are based on dogs, horses, and people that he has known and they thrum with life.

And his stories are funny, funny, funny!  Hank the Cowdog, as head of ranch security, takes his job VERY seriously.  His sidekick, Drover, loyal and long-suffering, helps him out and doesn’t criticize Hank’s many bloopers.

Sixty-one great tales make up the Hank the Cowdog series at present.  Even more impressive is the fact that John Erickson himself reads the stories for the audio books and he is GOOD.  All the voices and accents!

For those of us who are aspiring writers, Mr. Erickson stands as a model for integrity, independence, perseverance and excellence.  At the beginning of his efforts to bring his authentic, humorous stories to publication, no East Coast publishers would bite: “too provincial”, they said.  Millions of copies later, they have eaten their cowboy hats. 

Mr. Erickson, with the support of his good wife, Kris, started Maverick Books in his garage and the rest, as they say, is history.  Viking/Penguin now publishes the books, while Maverick Books retains the audiobook manufacture.

More on this fascinating writing and publishing story is found in his book, Storycraft, published in 2009 by Maverick Books, a collection of Mr. Erickson’s reflections on faith, culture and writing.

I read it cover to cover this summer – riveting!

In the chapter “Hank and Theology”, he comments: “In humor, the impact of the message is never quite under the author’s control.  When the audience laughs, we’re never sure whose face has caught the pie.  This makes humor a risky medium…Humor is a gift from author to audience, and once it’s passed along, it can’t be called back.  Writers who insist on controlling the message will never feel comfortable taking such a risk.” (p. 96, Storycraft. Perryton, TX: Maverick Books. 2009).

 Don’t we crave good, wholesome humor?  This series possesses it in spades, both for adult and child.  I recommend the audio versions of the stories with original songs performed by the author.  If you haven’t experienced this world yet, you are in for a treat.

Are you a bonus features fan like I am? If so, the author’s website will delight and amaze.  It is chock full of audio commentary, author biography, links to articles by the author, games and contests for kids, and lots of colorful illustrations:http://www.hankthecowdog.com

Categories: Children's Books, Humorous, Inspiration, Music, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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…

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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…

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The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis


The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia, published in 1954, tells the tale of Shasta, a Narnian boy raised in the country of Calormen by an illiterate fisherman who uses him like a slave and keeps his true identity from him. Shasta and Bree the Talking Horse, also a captive of the Calormenes, escape north to freedom in Narnia.

This particular “chronicle” seems to be less known, due in part to the fact that no modern movie has promoted it, unlike “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, “Prince Caspian”, and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. The powerful themes of escape, providence, and identity make it my favorite. Aslan, the great lion, appears throughout the story, but in many different guises; all with the same purpose, however, of directing and protecting the main characters. Sometimes he physically guards them, other times he protects them from their own folly.

Chronologically, this story takes place while the four Pevensie children are ruling: “Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and two sisters were Kings and Queens under him”(p.3). They have grown up enough that Queen Susan is being courted by the ruthless Calormen prince, Rabadash, but they are still young and carefree in their roles as monarchs: “Instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed.” (p. 58) The Narnian monarchs visit the Caloremene capital so that Queen Susan can meet her suitor in his own land and find themselves embroiled in political intrigue.

In my edition of the book, a colorful map, illustrated by Pauline Baynes, reminds us that the world of Narnia has surrounding countries, as well as the Great Eastern Ocean with its numerous islands. The Horse and His Boy is set in the land south of Narnia, across a great desert. The Tisroc, a cruel tyrant rules here and desires to gobble up Narnia through treachery if he can, and by force if his attempt at trickery fails.

Into this political intrigue enters Shasta who has grown up with beatings and hard labor and doesn’t realize he is of northern blood. He forms an alliance with Bree, a Talking Horse who was sold into slavery as a foal. During their daring escape attempt, the pair joins forces with another Narnian horse, the humble mare Hwin, and a privileged Calormene tarkeena named Aravis who is fleeing a forced marriage with a man “at least sixty years old with a hump on his back and a face like an ape”. (p.37).

The Narnian horses yearn fiercely for their free homeland : “The happy land of Narnia — Narnia of the heathery mountains and the thymy downs, Narnia of the many rives, the plashing glens, the mossy caverns and the deep forests ringing with the hammers of the Dwarfs. Oh the sweet air of Narnia! An hour’s life there is better than a thousand years in Calormen.” (p. 11). Even though Shasta has no memory of his birth in Narnia, his heart is drawn to it : “‘Oh hurrah!’ said Shasta, “Then we’ll go north. I’ve been longing to go to the North all my life.’” (p. 14)

In a humorous and ironic case of mistaken identity, Shasta falls in with the Narnian monarchs in the capital city of Tashbaan and unwittingly meets his twin. This story resonates for me as much now as it did in my youth when my babysitter, Sandi Beth Sandford, read it to us aloud. How that is possible is the genius of C.S. Lewis’ storytelling and his depth of insight into seeking where we belong and who we really are.

The sixth Chronicle of Narnia, The Silver Chair, also takes place in the land of Narnia, but in a northern country ruled by giants during the time when Caspian is king and Eustace Scrubb returns to Narnia to rescue Caspian’s son and heir.
The chronological order of the Narnia books: 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.  Thanks to my friend, Lynn – who insisted that her first reading of the Chronicles must be in the order the author wrote them, here is a “publication list”:  Lion, Prince, Voyage, Silver, Horse, Magician’s, Last.

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Great Expectations – Read the Classics

“A sense of permanent worthwhileness surrounds really great literature.  Laughter, pain, hunger, satisfaction, love, and joy —the ingredients of human life are found in depth and leave a residue of mental and spiritual richness in the reader. “ Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart

As human beings, we are designed to deepen.  Many opportunities lie before us to do so: school classes, on-line tutorials, life experiences.  What about great literature as a teacher? These titles have stood the test of time as a source of teaching and inspiration.  Between their covers are stored enduring themes, memorable characters, and vivid plots which often do not leave our hearts and minds – ever.

All of us have the capacity to enjoy a classic book.  Although there is no harm in following a favorite genre of fiction or seeking a “light” read; the mental challenge in reading classic literature propels us into new depths — past the shallow waters of  superficial plots and stereotypical characters.  Reading a more densely-written book builds our mental muscles. It definitely fulfills the Al-Anon recommendation: ”Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind…  I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.”

My unashamed bias is that classic literature should be appreciated in its unabridged form.   Many abridged versions cut out plotting, descriptions, or vocabulary.   An example of this is Daniel Defoe’s main character, Robinson Crusoe, who chronicles an episode of intense spiritual enlightenment which you wouldn’t want to miss.  Much of the vocabulary in classic books which tripped us up on SAT tests can be understood in context.  This is true for children as well.  Often they can hear and understand above their own school grade reading level, or they may choose to read the unabridged book later.   Also, many classics are now available at the library as wonderful audio productions with rich-voiced narrators.

My most recent efforts to read classics:

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  I spent three-fourths of the book hating Pip for his poor choices – especially how he treats the humble man who raised him with such disdain. Included in the adventure Dickens weaves is the threatening escaped convict who invades Pip’s life. This complex character is one of many memorable individuals which populate Dickens’ novels. Fellow wordpress blogger Jessica of The Bookworm Chronicles comments on the plot: “Great Expectations reminded me of a previous Dickens’s read Nicholas Nickleby because they both span a great deal of one individual’s life. There was plenty of time to really get to know Pip, his virtues as well as his faults and failings, and how he goes on to grow and change from a boy into a man.” http://www.thebookwormchronicles.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/the-classics-club-great-expectations/

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.  It has been three decades since I last read it in its entirety.  In some ways,  it was like being introduced to the adventure for the first time.  Twain masterfully crafted a humorous, poignant and thrilling tale from beginning to end.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is next on my list, partly because I want to continue to reach beyond  my comfort zone and partly because I want to read what my 13-year old has been assigned to read for English class.

My teenage children’s favorites: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

As an adult in any life stage, you now have an opportunity to catch up on those great books you missed or glossed over during your student years.  Keep enjoying your favorite books this year, but also challenge yourself to read a classic (or two)!

Categories: British novels, Classics, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Watership Down: Not Just a Bunny Book

Watership Down: Not Just a Bunny Book

I loved this novel when I read it as a teenager in the late 1970’s and I loved it again this year when I read it aloud to my thirteen-year-old daughter, Hannah.  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 library’s edition published by Scribner in 2005 boasts a fascinating introduction by Mr. Adams.  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.

It is wonderful that Richard Adams, born on May 9, 1920 is still alive and with us at age 92.  My goal is to write him a fan letter this year. If you missed this novel in your teen years, then it is high time to read it! Put Watership Down on your list of top ten novels to read in 2013 and then write me after you’ve read it to tell me that you loved it too.

An aside: 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.  Mr. Adams, a lifelong student of natural history, describes in detail the flora and fauna of the downs of England leaving me a little lost.  It would a great pleasure to me to see a future edition published with an illustrated glossary of trees, birds, and wildflowers.

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

 Dr. Theodore Geisel, the real “Dr. Seuss”, wrote this classic Christmas tale after looking at own reflection in a mirror on December 26 and seeing “the Grinch” looking back at him:   “I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noted a very Grinchish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! Something had gone wrong with Christmas, I realized, or more likely with me. So I wrote the story about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.” (December 1957 issue of Redbook magazine).

This wonderful book, first published in 1957, still resonates with us today as we face a holiday that is a very mixed bag of holy and holly!  I find the expectations, the increased activity, the spending decisions all conspire against me to rob the season of its joyful celebration of Christ’s entry into earth for our salvation.  This year I re-read the Grinch several times and found in it – of all places – the answer to what was wrong with me at Christmastime.  In the opening of the story, the Grinch is up on his solitary mountain, looking down, literally and figuratively, on the Whos as they celebrate Christmas with excessive noise, material gifts, food, and singing.  I identify most, especially before the holiday, with the  Grinch’s protest of the “Noise! Noise ! Noise!  Noise!” I begin to crave solitude and the calmer pace of life – including less traffic and crowded stores!  Dr Seuss is a master at capturing our Christmastime difficulties: too much feasting, too much materialism, too many parties and social encounters.  

But I found my answer  on the last three pages of the book:  “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!”   

 I am happy to report that my “tight heart” loosened up BEFORE the actual Christmas Day arrived and I saw with great clarity that it is our hearts that matter.  Are the things we do, buy, and say at Christmastime coming from LOVE? The heart is the key.  How did Theodore Geisel get it so right?  

 So I wish you all a “Loving” Christmas and  “Loving” New Year in 2013!

 

 

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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