Posts Tagged With: book lover

Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time and 59 Other Titles

Twentieth-century author Madeleine L’Engle, best known for A Wrinkle in Time, a young adult novel that won the Newbery Award in 1963, wrote sixty novels during her lifetime (1918-2007). If you haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time ever or recently, I highly recommend it whether you are young, middle-aged or older: “It was a dark and stormy night. In her attic bedroom, Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind.”

Teen protagonist Meg Murry is distraught because her father, experimenting with time travel and the fifth dimension, has mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin O’Keefe, and her young brother, Charles Wallace, to rescue him. They must overcome the forces of evil, but they discover that intelligence is no match for the brainwashing power of IT.

Like JK Rowling in her more contemporary “Harry Potter” series, Madeleine L’Engle focused on the power of love to overcome darkness. Beloved little brother Charles Wallace has been been mentally and emotionally “hijacked”, and his sister cannot reach him with reason. This novel is not a cold science fiction adventure, but a warm-hearted call to familial connection set in a fascinating mixed-up setting of real life and intergalactic fantasy.

Did you know that A Wrinkle in Time is the first in a series of five books? Recently, I went back and re-read the first three and then, read the fourth and fifth for the first time, since I missed them as a young adult reader. (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet titles in order of publication: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, An Acceptable Time).

I would like to add a brief comment that the movie, “A Wrinkle in Time”, released in 2003, although not exactly bad, certainly doesn’t have the emotional impact of the book.

Madeleine L’Engle

Many years ago, I saw Ms. L’Engle in person when she was awarded an honorary degree at my alma mater, Wheaton College, Illinois. Her rich and interesting life included a childhood in New York City, time in France at boarding school, living with her wealthy grandfather in South Carolina, acting, supporting her actor husband, Hugh Franklin, in Manhattan’s theatre circles, and running a general store in rural Connecticut.

I just finished re-reading A Circle of Quiet, the first volume in The Crosswicks Journals, an autobiographical series full of enjoyable and thought-provoking personal anecdotes, culled from her own writer’s journals. Several times as I read this book at my bedtime, I threw back the cozy quilt and hurried barefoot to my teen daughter’s room to read her an excerpt. I referenced A Circle of Quiet in my everyday conversations and found myself inspired to keep writing in my imperfect way:

 “A great painting, or symphony, or play, doesn’t diminish us, but enlarges us, and we, too, want to make our own cry of affirmation to the power of creation behind the universe. This surge of creativity has nothing to do with competition, or degree of talent. When I hear a superb pianist, I can’t wait to get to my own piano, and I play about as well now as I did when I was ten. A great novel, rather than discouraging me, simply makes me want to write. This response on the part of any artist is the need to make incarnate the new awareness we have been granted through the genius of someone else.” (A Circle of Quiet) (The Crosswicks Journals in order of publication: The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, The Irrational Season, Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage)

Now I am on to Meet the Austins, the first of the five Austin Chronicles, one of which received the Newbery Honor Medal (A Ring of Endless Light). I welcome your comments about Madeliene L’Engle or any of her novels.

Pineneedles and Papertrails Propaganda moment: Do you want your kids to be readers? According to Patrick Jones, author of Connecting with Reluctant Teen Readers, parents must model reading behavior and allow kids to see that parents “waste time” in nonessential pleasure reading. This helps the child to allow himself the same luxury.

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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

Boys Read? Are You Serious?

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

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-Teen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Teen:

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

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

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

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

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

Late Teen:

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

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

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

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

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

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

unbrokenThis biography stands head and shoulders above the countless others published for our edification. Not only did author Laura Hillenbrand research the details of the story meticulously, but she also wrote about deep themes such as human dignity, man’s cruelty to man, the will to live, and the type of love that sustains. In my opinion, Hillenbrand is one of the best contemporary writers of narrative history, and it is well worth the time it takes to read all 406 pages of this true story.

The facts horrify and defy belief and are definitely not for the faint-hearted. Adults and older teens would be the best candidates to survive the ordeal of reading the life story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, a hellion who only “settled down” when he began to run, thanks to the guidance of his older brother, Pete. World War II interrupted his promising running career, although he ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and was congratulated personally by Adolf Hitler.unbroken3

After joining the Army Air Corps, Louie successfully trained and fulfilled missions as a bombardier in the Pacific Theatre. When his B-24, the Green Hornet, crashed in the Pacific on May 27, 1943 only three men survived.  The terror of shark attack led many airmen to crash their disabled planes outright versus “ditch” them in the Pacific Ocean. During days the survivors of the Green Hornet waited for rescue, sharks were an ever-present danger, swimming around continuously, rubbing their backs under the deteriorating rubber rafts, and at times, attacking with ferocity over the sides.

During these endless days of suffering in the life rafts, Louie, Phil and Mac drew from the experience of World War I ace pilot Eddie Rickenbacker whose story of twenty-four days adrift was familiar to the soldiers. “Exposure, dehydration, stress, and hunger had quickly driven many of Rickenbacker’s party insane, a common fate for raft-bound men. Louie was more concerned about sanity than he was about sustenance… Louie was determined that no matter what happened to their bodies, their minds would stay under their control.” (p. 152)

Publicity stills photography on the set of NBC Universal's movie 'Unbroken'

The well-being of the three survivors depended also on their hopefulness: “Though all three men faced the same hardship, their differing perceptions of it appeared to be shaping their fates. Louie and Phil’s hope displaced their fear and inspired them to work toward their survival, and each success renewed their spiritual and emotional vigor. Mac’s resignation seemed to paralyze him, and the less he participated in their efforts to survive, the more he slipped. Though he did the least, as the days passed, it was he who faded the most. Louie and Phil’s optimism, and Mac’s hopelessness, were becoming self-fulfilling.” (p. 155)

Shockingly, Louie’s plight worsened after his “rescue” from the sea by the Japanese navy. In the years that follow he was passed through a series of horrific prisoner of war camps in Japan. The shame of imprisonment that was indoctrinated in the Japanese military may be one of the reasons for the savage treatment of prisoners in the Japanese camps. Sadistic and continual torture served to rob men of their dignity so essential to human life.

Persevering to the end of the story offers the reader a final relief and a surprise – a revelation of how to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder through spiritual awakening and forgiving one’s tormentors.

Unbroken is the culmination of seven years of research, seventy-five interviews with Louie who, according to Ms. Hillenbrand, had a prodigious memory. Louis himself provided the author with his journals, original newspaper clippings, memorabilia, and private photos. Due to the author’s battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, all the interviews were conducted by phone. When Louie learned of Ms. Hillenbrand’s courageous battle with the disease he sent her his Purple Heart medal, claiming that her suffering was greater than his. Louie and Laura did finally meet in 2012 just a few years before Louie’s death at age 97. Physically active and cheerful until the end of his life, Louie is no longer available to tell his story. This lends great importance to the narrative finely crafted by Ms. Hillenbrand.

Although Unbroken chronicles the life of one man, many others who served in WWII in the Pacific Theatre are honored in the storytelling.   Japanese POW “Hap” (Raymond) Halloran is one such man who Laura Hillenbrand praised in the book’s acknowledgements: “Very few human beings have seen humanity’s dark side as Hap has, and yet he is ever buoyant, ever forgiving. Hap’s resilient heart is my inspiration.”

unbroken5

In my opinion we need this story of a flawed hero who survived terror and torture and received his life back in the end. As goodreads reviewer and fellow veteran Jason commented: “In 10-15 years America will lose all its primary sources from WWII. You will have no reference, no great-grampa to reveal that epoch to you in lost military jargon and GI colloquialism. Great-grampa, the leatherneck, that, when you were a punk adolescent, sat alone in the warm sunroom with paper-thin skin on the backs of his hands, spots of lentigo, and steaming black coffee in winter. Gut-rot coffee, the way he learned to drink it back then, in a hole, or at predawn prep for takeoff. And so, I’m afraid that younger generations will lose the silken threads that link living history. I’m afraid that kids who think nothing unusual of presidents with no military experience will view WWII simply as another knuckle in history—something to study, fodder for a paper—but no less important than history that piles up each year and must be studied in turn.” (For more on this review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/451396288?book_show_action=true&page=1

More information about the author and the Unbroken story can be found on the author’s official website: http://laurahillenbrandbooks.com. The major motion picture, Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, is scheduled for release on Christmas Day 2014.

I wrote a post a while back about another good Japanese POW true story: https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/to-end-all-wars-a-japanese-pow-tells-his-story/

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Courage to Change: Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

Brat Farrar 2

“If a book leaves you exactly where it found you, thinking and feeling nothing you hadn’t felt or thought before, you are no different for having read it. The criterion for a memorable book is the hope of rereading it some day and a passion to share the book with someone else.” Glady Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart

So many wonderful books would be hidden from our knowledge without the enthusiastic recommendation of a dear friend or relative. A novel that has remained on my personal “Top Ten” list for over twenty years came from just that source. Years ago, Margaret Turner, in her eighties and legally blind, passed on to me a tattered anthology of mystery novels by Josephine Tey. Brat Farrar was my favorite. First published in 1949 and set in rural England, it is a mystery without the standard corpse on the hearthrug and polite police inspector. Instead, it is a masterpiece of deep themes, clearly defined characters, and building suspense.

The main character, Brat Farrar, is a young man with many flaws and a “checkered” past. As the story starts, Brat agrees to pose as the heir to a fortune for personal financial gain. Clearly, this is an immoral choice. Yet, all through the story, I felt a kinship with him. His motivation gets challenged early on in his deception. He experiences “a faint queasiness, a sort of spiritual indigestion” (p. 121) that leads to profound change during the course of the novel. This is definitely not one of those books with static characters who never learn or grow. Instead, I find inspiration that we, too, are able to be transformed.

Also, Tey interweaves a beautiful theme about our need to belong throughout the story. Brat, an orphan, is motivated by this visceral human impulse: “No one else had taken his hand in just that way. Casual — no, not possessive… Belonging. It had something to do with belonging. The hand had taken him for granted because he belonged. It was the unthinking friendliness of a woman to one of her family. Was it because he had never ‘belonged’ before that made that commonplace gesture into a benediction?” (p. 158)

This mystery novel is chock-full of charming, intricate characters: the rector, George Peck, is described as being ugly, but possessing great kindness and wisdom: “One of George Peck’s charms was that he listened to what was said to him.” (p. 202), Aunt Bee holds the family together and shows Brat undeserved kindness. Then there is Simon, Brat’s rival for the family fortune and Eleanor, the “sister” who is Brat’s dream girl . The plot twists, turns and culminates in a riveting denouement.

Elizabeth MacIntosh

Elizabeth MacIntosh aka Josephine Tey

My proof that I love this novel is that I have read it four times! Josephine Tey, is one of the pen names for Elizabeth MacKintosh who, sadly, died at an early age. Thankfully, most of her novels are still in print, though, alas, sometimes not available at the local library.  The following are the novels written under the name Josephine Tey, some starring Inspector Grant:  Brat Farrar, A Shilling for Candles, To Love and Be Wise, The Man in the Queue, A Daughter of Time, The Singing Sands, Miss Pym Disposes, and The Franchise Affair.  The author also wrote plays under the nom de plume Gordon Daviot.

Categories: British novels, Mystery | 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

read aloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

honey for a child's heart

Read-Aloud Resources:

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

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

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

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

Patches of Godlight: Companion Book to Jan Karon’s Mitford Years Series

Fictional Mitford

I love words. I like to write them; I like to say them, but I am much more enamored of the brilliant words of others and am therefore happy to recommend a book by bestselling author Jan Karon that is chock-full of lovely words: Patches of Godlight Father Tim’s Favorite Quotes was published in 2001 by Penguin Putnam as a companion book to the bestselling Mitford Years series which I wrote about in my post entitled: “Have You Been Home Lately: At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon”.https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/have-you-been-home-lately-at-home-in-mitford-by-jan-karon/

Karon wrote her series to “give readers an extended family, and to applaud the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives.” Father Timothy Anthony Kavanagh, the central character in Jan Karon’s nine novels is an Episcopal priest in his sixties whose love for every soul extends far beyond the boundaries of his small North Carolina parish. Delightfully, Father Tim is intelligent and well read; within each novel his speech flows with literary quotations and references.  Now these quotations are available in one volume that whimsically creates a facsimile of Father’s Tim’s notebook written in his own hand, with typewritten notes taped askew every so often.

Patches of Godlight offers a rich word feast from a variety of thinkers, philosophers, and poets:

“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

“We – or at least I – shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest.  At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have “tasted and seen.” Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy.  These pure and spontaneous pleasures are “patches of godlight” in the woods of experience.”  C.S. Lewis from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.

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.  Karon advises us to create our own Mitfords: “People say to me quite plaintively, ‘Oh, how I wish Mitford could be real.’ Well, Mitford can be real. Mitford is real, but we have to do our part. Mitford doesn’t just come to us like some cute little idyllic, cozy Kincaid greeting card. We have to pitch in. We have to keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to others. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there. It doesn’t all come to us. We have to go out to it. If we go out to greet it, we will find it. Do something for somebody else. Give somebody a hug, and do it with a full heart. Listen to the humor. Watch and observe the humor in other people’s lives and in your own. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Just get out there and wade in up to your neck into that sea of humanity, which is so needy. Smile at somebody for goodness sake!” excerpted from an interview with cbn.com http://www.cbn.com/entertainment/Books/elliott_JanKaron.aspx

I love this volume of beautiful words, but I feel the need to create my own treasury of quotations so that I will not lose those that touch my mind and soul.  How do you preserve your treasured words?

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

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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