Thursday, January 31, 2013

Children's Literature: Master List of Links

For ease of reference in future, here is a complete list of January's articles about children's literature:

John Newbery
19th-century Illustrators
Hans Christian Andersen
E. Nesbit
Sydney Taylor
Padraic Colum
Walter de la Mare
P. L. Travers
L. M. Boston
Tove Jansson
Roger Lancelyn Green
Rosemary Sutcliff
Edward Eager
Elizabeth Goudge
Homer Price
Eleanor Farjeon
Meindert DeJong
Wrapup and Post-1960 Bonus

Amanda's overviews: first and second

Arenel at Slightly Cultural, Most Thoughtful and Inevitably Irrelevant 's list of Russian classics 

Classics Club: January Meme

It's pretty embarrassing that I didn't get around to doing the Classics Club's January meme until the last day of January, but in my defense, I was busy!  Writing posts that will benefit Classics Clubbers for generations to come!  (Yeah, that's the ticket...)  So now I'm going to do it, only there are these tree-trimmers across the street making the most horrible noise....

What is the best book you’ve read so far for The Classics Club — and why? Be sure to link to the post where you discussed the book! (Or, if you prefer, what is your least favorite read so far for the club, and why?)

Oh wow.  That's a toughie.  I have loved a whole bunch of these books.  I've read 24 so far (out of probably 150 on my list now, which is completely out of control). Two of them are waiting for me to write them up.  And my favorite is one of them!  So...

My first pick is Anna Karenina.  I just read it this month and finished it maybe two weeks ago.  My friends, this is an amazing novel.  I will be reading it again!  I should not have put it off for so long.  It is, I'm pretty sure, the very best book that I've read for the Club so far.  I even like the farming bits that everyone complains about.

For my favorite that I can link to, I really can't decide between Doctor Zhivago and Madame Bovary.  I can't choose!  They were both just gorgeous, so beautifully written.  The better I like a book the less coherent I am about it, especially with these chainsaws and leaf blowers right outside my window, so I can't think of much more to say.  

My least favorite book is easy: The Communist Manifesto is hardly a good read.

Conclusion: why are all my favorite Classics Club books about adultery?  That's pretty weird.  I don't like adultery.  It's just that they're all so beautifully written, and they don't prettify the situations either; Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary are both pretty realistic about the damage that happens (Doctor Zhivago, taking place as it does in a war zone during WWI and the Revolution, separates everyone forever so it's a bit different).

Children's Literature: Wrapup and Post-1960 Bonus

It's the end of January and sadly, the end of our celebration of classic children's literature.  I hope you read The Princess and the Goblin, or read some other children's classic and blogged about it, or maybe put some titles on your TBR list.  I've had a lot of fun digging through my memory for favorite books and authors, and I've learned a lot about those authors while I was researching. 

Our rules stated that we would keep to books pre-1960, but I do want to include two   three  four last authors for you to make sure to read.  They are a little more recent, but not by much!

Joan Aiken--well, everybody's read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, but there are 12 books in the series and they're all pretty fantastic (in both senses of the word).  Aiken's alternate history for Britain includes Jacobean kings and Hanoverian plotters who want to take over the throne with improbable schemes.  (I often have to think hard to remember that there was no English king called James III--or Jamie Three as his friends call him).

But my very favorite Aiken books are about Arabel and Mortimer, and I always seem to be the only person who knows them (well, not now that I've given the books to half my kids' friends as birthday presents), so I'm going to tell you too.  Arabel is a lovely sweet little girl who deeply loves her horrible pet raven, Mortimer.  Mortimer's adventures are enormously funny and guaranteed to tickle children in just the right spot.

Jane Langton--Langton has a great knowledge American history and philosophy, and her children's books blend those interests with magic.  The Diamond in the Window is about a brother and sister who start to follow a trail of magical dreams set up years ago...but a sinister power changed the dreams into traps that once caught another pair of children.  Langton continued the series with several other books, and they are both unusual and fun.

Edward Ardizzone--he was mostly an artist and illustrator, but also wrote lovely picture books.  Some of them are part of the Little Tim series, about Tim who wants nothing more than to be a sailor.  On his voyages, he makes friends with Ginger, Charlotte, and dog Towser, and is frequently shipwrecked.  Peter the Wanderer is a stand-alone title about Peter who meets a sailor, who then drops his most precious possession.  Peter pursues the sailor for weeks and months, barely staying ahead of the sinister men following him.

Jean Merrill--her book The Pushcart War is a favorite of my daughter's, and won a Horn Book prize too.  The truck companies in New York City have hatched a conspiracy to drive all other traffic off the streets, but the little pushcart owners fight back with a Pea-Shooter Campaign.  Merrill is also the author of my all-time favorite picture book, The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars.  Is that not the most perfect title anyone ever came up with?

And that is the end of our celebration.  I hope you liked it!  As you can see I've done little other blogging this month, and I have several books to tell you about.  I can also share the wonderful news that as of today, the Bookstore has reached its funding goal and will stay open! 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Children's Literature: Meindert DeJong

Meindert DeJong (1906 - 1991) was born in the Netherlands (in Friesland).  (BTW you pronounce it DeYoung, which I didn't know until just now.)  He emigrated with his family to the US when he was about 8.  His family was poor, and he was often lonely, as the other children at school bullied him.  Despite his family's circumstances, he earned a college degree from Calvin College in Michigan.  The Great Depression made it difficult for him to get steady work, though, and he changed jobs often.  The New Netherland Institute's biographical sketch says:
The term “variety of jobs” may not be sufficient or descriptive. De Jong worked as a college professor, probably as an adjunct professor, as a grave digger, as a mason, as a tin smith, as a sexton in a church, and as a bricklayer.
In 1938, DeJong was 32, and a librarian encouraged him to try writing.  He soon published his first book, The Big Goose and the Little White Duck.   World War II interrupted DeJong's budding writing career, and he served in China with the US Army Air Corps (the forerunner of the Air Force).  Afterwards he returned to writing and--after some time and some day jobs--became very successful.   He apparently had a great dislike for publicity or attention, and rarely made appearances as an author. 

DeJong wrote a whole lot of books and won awards for many of them, including a Newbery and an HCA Award--the first given to an American writer.   I'm not sure we hear much about him now, though he was one of the most popular American children's writer's of the mid-20th century.  If you look in the children's room of your library, you might find a whole shelf of old DeJong stories.  Several were illustrated by Maurice Sendak as well.

Many of DeJong's books focus on animals--not just sentimental animal stories, but realistic ones, often with ecological concerns as well.  Hurry Home, Candy and Along Came a Dog both feature lost dogs looking for homes, but they aren't sentimental stories. The Wheel on the School, which won the Newbery in 1955, has a whole group of schoolchildren working hard to attract a stork to their school.  And Shadrach is about a pet rabbit that disappears.

The House of Sixty Fathers reflects some of DeJong's experiences during the war.  It's the story of a young Chinese boy who ends up living at an American airbase after the Japanese invasion separates him from his family.  (DeJong did in fact take in an orphaned boy while he was serving in China, and planned to adopt him, but the new Communist regime made it impossible.)  This story's theme was considered too difficult for children when it was first written, so it was some time before it was published, but it got a Newbery Honor in 1957.

I hope you'll give these stories a try if you can.  They may be old, and a bit slow-moving by our rather hyper standards, but DeJong was absolutely modern in his themes and concerns, which are just as relevant now as they were then.  Besides, the writing is lovely.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Children's Literature: Eleanor Farjeon

I've kind of saved Eleanor Farjeon until the end, and now I'm wondering if I'll have time to write all the posts I want to, so I'm going to do this one now because she's one of my very favorites.

Eleanor Farjeon (1881 –  1965) lived in London.  She had 3 brothers who went to school, but she herself was short-sighted, shy, and suffered chronic ill-health, so she was educated at home.  This education consisted largely of her spending all her time reading books in the dusty attic (between this and the London air, it's no wonder she got sick all the time!).  Here is her description of her home:
In the home of my childhood there was a room we called "The Little Bookroom". True, every room in the house could have been called a bookroom. Our nurseries upstairs were full of books. Downstairs my father's study was full of them. They lined the dining room walls, and overflowed into my mother's sitting-room, and up into the bedrooms. It would have been more natural to live without clothes than without books. As unnatural not to read as not to eat.
The Little Bookroom

Her father also read aloud to the children a whole lot, and encouraged their storytelling abilities by showing them slides to make up stories about and teaching them to type.  In 1890, mind you.

 Writing and music was what Farjeons did, and Eleanor's circle included literary and theatrical names.  She wrote poetry and stories and even a libretto for an operetta.  She also did broadcasting and journalism.  She was friends with writers from Walter de la Mare to D. H. Lawrence and lots more.

Farjeon was especially good at writing easy poetry about history.  I have a book of these poems, not to mention a couple of books about saints and kings, and a children's adaptation of The Canterbury Tales (ALL of them, if you can believe it, but suitably altered for children!). 

It's her stories that I really prefer, though.  Farjeon wrote piles of stories--often delicate, pretty fairy tales with a bit of an 18th-century flavor, but just as often mischievous or sad.  She often mentions Watteau in her stories and that's sort of how I think of them.  Edward Ardizzone did a lot of illustrations for her and the combination is perfect.

The easiest book to find, and the one I grew up on (I think it was one of the few books I took to college, even) is The Little Bookroom, a collection of the stories that she considered her best.  It won the Carnegie Medal in 1955. 

It's also fairly easy to find Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard and Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field, which are collections of stories centered on a wandering troubadour.  They are structured a bit like the Decameron, really.  And I like Kaleidoscope, about a boy's memories of growing up in his village.  

 Please, please give Eleanor Farjeon a try, especially if you have a child who likes to be read aloud to.  Very small girls particularly love "The Lady's Room" in The Little Bookroom.  When my daughter was about 4, I had to read it to her over and over.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Children's Literature: Homer Price

Homer Price isn't an author, he's a character.  You'll already know the author, Robert McCloskey (1914 - 2003), as the author of Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal.  McCloskey's two books for older children aren't seen as much any more.  They are really fun, though, so let's look at them.

Homer is a kid who likes to tinker and fix radios.  He does odd jobs around the neighborhood.  And he just inexplicably winds up in crazy situations.  His uncle's new doughnut-making machine goes haywire and won't stop making doughnuts, robbers hold up a radio station, snake-oil salesmen get their comeuppances.  It's  very fun, very American and happy in style, like a tall tale.  (If you've read Henry Huggins, it's a bit like that, only turned up to 11.)

Homer Price was published in 1943, and a sequel, Centerburg Tales or More Homer Price, came along in 1951.  Give them a try!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Children's Literature: Elizabeth Goudge

Elizabeth Goudge is one of my more recent finds, and I would really like to see her books back in circulation.  She wrote many books, both for adults and children.  Here of course we will only talk about the children's books.

Elizabeth de Beauchamp Goudge (1900 - 1984) was born in Wells and her father was the vice-principal of the Theological College there (which explains why she wrote so often about cathedral cities).  Her mother was from Guernsey and Elizabeth visited it often as a child.  Goudge studied at Reading and then went on to teach design and handicrafts.  Her first successful book, Island Magic (about Guernsey), was published in 1934 and she had a long and successful career as a writer.

Goudge's most famous book--and her own favorite--is The Little White Horse, and it's currently pretty easy to get in paperback, though sadly without the original illustrations.*  It's a lovely fairy tale of a story, and won the Carnegie Medal in 1946.  Here's the publisher's description:  The beautiful valley of Moonacre is shadowed by the memory of the Moon Princess and the mysterious little white horse. When orphaned Maria Merryweather comes to stay there, she finds herself involved with an ancient feud and is determined to restore peace and happiness to the whole of Moonacre Valley—and she usually gets her way.  And I'm pleased to see that there is a new reproduction edition coming out next month, complete with the original illustrations and even color plates!

The Little White Horse was J. K. Rowling's favorite book as a child, and she has said that it helped to inspire her writing.  So all you Harry Potter fans out there know what you need to do.

Another favorite of mine is Linnets and Valerians.  I just love this one.  It's reminiscent of E. Nesbit stories, with a group of siblings who encounter magic and danger in an English village.  It's worth reading many times.

I also like I Saw Three Ships, which would make a great Christmas read-aloud story, even for younger children.  It's quite short and tells the story of a little girl who lives with two aunts (this is during the Regency era).  On Christmas Eve she leaves the window open--she is sure that something will happen.  And so it does.

These are the only ones I've been able to read myself, but there are several others.  I would love to get hold of The Blue Hills, which I have heard is good.  The Well of the Star and The Valley of Song both sound intriguing, don't you think?

*The illustrations for The Little White Horse were done by C. Walter Hodges, one of the big names of the mid-20th century, and the book was actually dedicated to him.  So I think it is particularly annoying that the pictures were left out of the current edition.

Please help save our bookstore

I have a favor to ask all of you.  In my hometown, there is a wonderful used bookstore.  It is large, it is quirky, and it is full of great books waiting to be read.  It's especially strong on children's books.  There are narrow nooks to hide in and comfy chairs to sit in.  It is, in short, a pretty ideal used bookstore--the kind that you don't see much of anymore.  My city is very lucky to have it.

Recently the owner--who is largely absent--decided to retire, and the manager decided to purchase the store and take it over.  A wonderful idea!  But the owner has some rather stringent conditions:  $35,000 in cash on a short deadline.  Rather than let our city lose a wonderful and unique resource, the manager decided to take it to the people.  An Indiegogo fundraiser has done very well so far, but we are now 9 days away from the deadline and still several thousand dollars short.

So please visit the Indiegogo website and watch the Bookstore's video.  Then, if you have a few extra dollars and are willing to support an independent bookstore in its time of need, please donate whatever you can.   Thanks!

I should probably add that Josh, the manager, is a friend of mine--a fellow homeschooling parent and booklover.  In fact he's my oldest homeschooling buddy.  So I need him and his family to stick around!

PS for Sunday: Today's newspaper has a story about the Bookstore and how the community has supported their fundraising!

Children's Literature: Princess and the Goblin RAL

Amanda at Simpler Pastimes has a discussion post up for her readalong of George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin.  Pop over and take a look!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Children's Literature: Edward Eager

Edward Eager (1911-1964) is still fairly popular, especially since his books were re-issued a few years back with new Quentin Blake covers.  But I'm still going to talk about him!

He was born in Toledo, Ohio, went to Harvard, and dropped out before finishing.  But while he was there, he wrote a successful play and that led to his career as a lyricist and playwright, living in New York and Connecticut.  All of these elements show up in his stories, which he started writing when he wanted books to read to his son Fritz.

It's always easy to see from his books that he must have admired E. Nesbit very much, and indeed Oxford UP's page on him says that "In each of his books Edward Eager carefully acknowledges his indebtedness to E Nesbit, whom he considered the best children's writer of all time."

Original and current covers

Eager's seven books are very much like mid-century American versions of Nesbit's stories; they would be shameless ripoffs if he hadn't been so public about wanting his stories to lead kids to reading her.  A group of ordinary siblings accidentally find something magic, and have adventures with it.  His characters are usually a lot of fun, with plenty of personality.  I really like the illustrations, too--I can understand why the publishers had Quentin Blake do new covers, and they are great, but to my mind they don't really fit with the original illustrations that, happily, are still in the books.  So I'm a bit ambivalent about those.

Most people like Half Magic a lot, in which four siblings find a magic coin that grants wishes--but only half.  It's quite tricky to get a wish right in that case, and the kids' adventures are very funny. 

Five of the books are straight contemporary fantasy, and two--Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers are not.  Those two (which go together) are more ambiguous about whether magic is really happening, and The Well-Wishers features a plot element about the first black family to move into a white town.

Here is a list of Eager's books, shamelessly lifted from Wikipedia:

  1. Half Magic (1954)
  2. Knight's Castle (1956)
  3. Magic By the Lake (1957)
  4. The Time Garden (1958)
  5. Magic Or Not? (1959)
  6. The Well-Wishers (1960)
  7. Seven-Day Magic (1962)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Children's Literature: Rosemary Sutcliff

I would call Rosemary Sutcliff the best historical fiction children's writer of the 20th century.  I don't think she can be beaten.  I'm not sure she really qualifies as "lesser-known," since there was a movie made of her most famous book just last year, but as far as I've been able to see she is not nearly as appreciated as she ought to be, and many people are unfamiliar with her work--which is too bad, because in a day where we fuss a lot about getting boys to read, she is just what is needed.  There is even an entire blog dedicated to Sutcliff and her work, so go check it out!  There are some great stories and quotations there.

Rosemary Sutcliff (1920 - 1992) was born in Surrey, but as her father was an officer in the Navy, she spent much of her childhood in Malta and moving around to various naval bases.  She suffered from Still's disease, a form of juvenile arthritis, and spent a lot of time in hospitals having painful operations.  Sutcliff spent most of her life in a wheelchair and was partially educated at home with her mother, who told her endless stories of Saxon and Celtic legends.  She trained as an artist, worked as a miniature painter, and only started writing when she was about 30, in 1950.  She continued writing right up to her death in 1992.

Sutcliff's first book was The Chronicles of Robin Hood, but she soon started to focus on realistic historical fiction set in Roman, post-Roman, and Saxon Britain.   She is best known for The Eagle of the Ninth, the story of a young Roman officer who ventures past Hadrian's Wall to find out what happened to his father's legion.  The Eagle series continues for six more books, tracing a family through the next several hundred years of British history (it ends at the Norman conquest!).  

She wrote many stories about Roman and early medieval Britain, usually featuring battles and adventure.  Other times she worked in Saxon or Celtic legend.  There are even some stories about later days, and when I was a kid I liked Flame-Colored Taffeta, which has 18th-century smugglers.

Sutcliff also produced excellent re-tellings of Arthurian legends.  If your young teen wants something that isn't as medieval in tone as the books that strictly follow Malory (as Roger Lancelyn Green did), try Tristan and Iseult, The Sword and the Circle, The Light Beyond the Forest, The Road to Camlann, and The Shining Company.   They are really well-done and bring in more Celtic themes.

She also wrote the best re-tellings of the Iliad and the Odyssey that I know of for children: Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus.  Illustrated by the eminent Alan Lee, they are like very long picture books, great for a read-aloud for kids 9 and under.  (Mary Pope Osborne's shorter re-tellings are fine too, but they're meant for young readers in chapter books, while these are more for reading aloud or for older kids.)

For her works, Sutcliff won several literary awards: the Carnegie, the Horn Book, and others.  She was up for the HCA Award in 1974.  And she was named to the Order of the British Empire as well.

Give Sutcliff a try; you'll learn a lot about Roman and medieval Britain.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Reached, by Ally Condie

How many people have been waiting to get their hands on the third book in the Matched trilogy?  Me, for one.  I've enjoyed this YA dystopian drama.

In the final volume, Cassia is working in Central City and trading poetry on the side.  Xander is working as a medical official, and Ky is a pilot for the Rising.  All three are waiting for the moment when the Rising will really start.  Will they ever get to see each other again?  And of course, who will Cassia choose?

This was a really long book, right into Chunkster territory.  A lot happens, and the story doesn't stall.  If you've read a whole lot of YA and dystopia, the storyline won't be terribly surprising (love triangle, loyalty in the rebellion, etc.), but it is well-done and a good read for any teen.  You can give it to your 12-year-old, but there's enough depth for anyone. 

Free will and the ability to choose (and have consequences) are the central themes in this story.  Cassia's Society is benevolently and suffocatingly repressive.  This is a society where virtually nothing is available for choice; it's all managed from above and uniform.  It also represses creativity, and Cassia has to learn to encourage people in creating things, which is an interesting part of the story.

As for the love triangle:  personally I like Xander better--but then it seems like we don't get to know Ky as well, so maybe I'm not fair.  It's never treated like a big suspenseful thing, though.  Cassia is pretty clear about what she wants.

I liked it, it was a pretty interesting book.

Children's Literature: Roger Lancelyn Green

Roger Lancelyn Green (1918 – 1987) was an Oxford scholar, an Inkling, a biographer, a librarian, and a teller of tales.  My kind of guy, really.  He only barely scrapes in under our pre-1960 limbo stick, since he wrote in the 1950s--and 60s, and 70s.  But I've just got to include him.

Lancelyn Green studied literature at Oxford under C. S. Lewis and they became good friends.  He joined the Inklings* and was in fact the one to suggest the title "Chronicles of Narnia."  Lewis Carroll was Lancelyn Green's big interest and he wrote a biography and edited Carroll's diaries.  He also did biographical work on our old friend HCA and on J. M. Barrie, who he admired greatly.  Lancelyn Green worked as Deputy Librarian of Merton College for five years (you just know I had to get that in there!), and later on served at the University of Liverpool, which was close to his ancestral home.
My favorite edition of King Arthur

This ancestral home was Poulton Hall in Cheshire; the family has owned the house for over 900 years and is still in residence.  Today, it is open to the public a couple of days a year, and so if you get the chance you could visit the garden, which is now a memorial to Lancelyn Green's work.  Here is Poulton Hall's website, which has some nice pictures, especially of the memorial garden.

A new Puffin edition
What Lancelyn Green really became known for were his retellings of tales and myths for children.  First came the tales of King Arthur and  Robin Hood, and I would recommend them over all the versions out there.  They are beautifully written, clear--without too much pseudo-medieval language that is hard to understand--and keep nicely to the traditional stories.  Of course I think we should all read lots of the versions available to us, but if you're going to pick one to read aloud to your kids, these are the ones to choose.

Later in the 1950s came retellings of Greek myths.  We have the Tale of Troy and some of the other Greek stories, and they are very good.   In the 60s Lancelyn Green branched out and produced books of Egyptian myths (again, one of the best available now), folktales from around the world, and Shakespeare. 

Pauline Baynes, who famously illustrated the Narnia stories, illustrated The Tale of Troy, but unfortunately the modern paperbacks don't seem to include them.  I really think it's such a shame how they're always leaving wonderful illustrations out.  Grrrr.  Baynes also designed a bookplate especially for Lancelyn Green.  I sure wish I could find a picture of that bookplate, but it is eluding me.

Please do give Roger Lancelyn Green a try; he's very good.  Puffin has kept his mythology titles in print for years, in inexpensive editions, so they're quite easy to find.

Poulton Hall

*The list there does not include Dorothy Sayers, I don't know why not since at the end she's listed as a major Inkling author.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Five Billion Vodka Bottles to the Moon

Five Billion Vodka Bottles to the Moon: Tales of a Soviet Scientist, by Iosif Shklovsky

Look!  It's my first book of 2013, and it only took me 3 weeks into the new year!  I found this book at Dwight's excellent A Common Reader blog, and I knew I had to have it.  Unlike many books I have to have, the library owns a copy of this one, so I got to read it almost right away.

Iosif Shklovsky was a Soviet astronomer who made great strides in radio astronomy, became a leader in the space program, and helped to start the group SETI, which searches for life in the universe.   Because he was Jewish, and because he was an outspoken sort of person who did not always go along with the Soviet regime, he was never really accepted into the inner circle of Soviet science. 

In 1981, about 4 years before he died, Shklovsky thought he ought to write down some stories from his life--personal anecdotes, his thoughts about science in Russia, all sorts of things.  He didn't expect them to be published in his lifetime or (in Russia at least) as long as the USSR endured.  The English edition was published in 1991--and this is a somewhat pared-down version--and the Russian edition was not published until after that (I'm not sure when).

I had high hopes for this book when I started, and I was vindicated.  Shklovsky tells great stories.  He experienced World War II as a graduate student, he lived through the worst of the Stalin regime, and all sorts of things.  He went to Brazil to observe a full solar eclipse, but after that, travel ceased for years as he was not allowed to travel outside the country for scientific conferences.  He talks about friends and colleagues and enemies.

It's very much like reading a Soviet counterpart to Richard Feynman's stories.  Shklovsky has the same overload of personality, love of practical jokes, and blunt opinion.  If you have read and enjoyed Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! then this is a must-read.  Or, if you are interested in Soviet history or in astronomy, it's also a must-read.  I enjoyed it very much and it was just my kind of book.

The strange title comes from a neat chapter where Shklovsky plays around with numbers and talks about how you can extrapolate general statistical estimates with smaller samples of information.  He figures that Soviet families spend, on average, about 10% of their income on alcohol, and estimates that the amount of alcohol consumed in Russia every year must be about 5 billion half-liter vodka bottles--enough to reach to the Moon.

This counts as my first Wishlist title!  I guess I can also count it towards the Euro challenge--Shklovsky was Ukrainian so I guess I'd better put it there?

The 2013 European Reading Challenge

This is another challenge I've been looking at for a while--it fits right in with my plans for this year.  So I'm going to join Rose City Reader's European Challenge.  For one thing, I love the button!  The rules:

Welcome to the 2013 European Reading Challenge – where participants tour Europe through books.  And have a chance to win a prize.  Please join me for the Grand Tour!

The gist: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour. (See note about the UK, below)

What counts as "Europe"? For this challenge, we will use the list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. This list includes the obvious (the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.

Note: Technically, the United Kingdom is one country that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  So one book from any one of these four should count as your one book for that one country. I'm not going to be a stickler about it because challenges should be about fun not about rules. However, when it comes to winning the Jet Setter prize, only one book from one of the UK countries will count.

Here is the list, in alphabetical order: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.


Five Star (Deluxe Entourage): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

Four Star (Honeymooner): Read four qualifying books.

Three Star (Business Traveler): Read three qualifying books.

Two Star (Adventurer): Read two qualifying books.

One Star (Pensione Weekender): Read just one qualifying book.


The participant who reads and reviews the greatest number of qualifying books (more than five) will get a $25 gift card to Powell's Books (can be used in store or on line).  Participants living in Europe (or anywhere else Book Depository goes) will get a $25-equivalent gift card to Book Depository.  If you live in a country where neither Powell's nor Book Depository will work, then sorry, you are out of luck.

Each book must be by a different author and set in a different country. This means that only one book from one of the four UK countries will count.  Only books reviewed count towards the prize.

  • Read all books between January 1, 2013 and January 31, 2014.  I like having 13 months so there is extra time to finish after the holidays.  However, if you participated in the 2012 European Reading Challenge, you can only count books read in January 2013 for one year -- either the end of the 2012 challenge or the start of the 2013 challenge -- you don't get to count one book for both challenges. 
  • Sign up here using Mr. Linky under the "PARTICIPANTS" heading below. Please use a link to your challenge post, not your blog home page.   
  • If you do not have a blog, please leave a comment below with the level you are signing up for, and your list of books if you want to name them now, and I will add you to the list.
  • You do not have to commit to your choices now; you can change your mind about books at any time.
  • Overlap with other challenges is allowed -- and encouraged! Have ideas for good overlapping challenge opportunities? Please leave links in comments.
  • Re-reads count. Audiobooks count.  E-books count.  Self-published books count.
  • As you progress, please link to your reviews on the review list page.  Reviews are not necessary, unless you are going for the prize, in which case only books reviewed count.  If you do not have a blog, put your reviews or reports in a comment on this post. When you finish, please link to your wrap-up posts on the wrap-up page.
  • You can copy and paste the button. Or, if you want me to send you the code, please leave a comment with an email and I will. I cannot figure out the fancy ways of giving button instructions.

Now, I have no idea where I could possibly find a book set in San Marino or Andorra, but who knows?   (Come to think of it, I bet there's a James Bond book!)  I will be signing up for the Deluxe Entourage level--I'll just put all the European books I read on a list and see how it goes.

Children's Literature: Tove Jansson

If you're European or Japanese, you may well have heard of the Moomintroll books, but Americans are woefully underinformed about the amazingness that is Tove Jansson and her Moomintrolls.  I came across them when I was 13 or so, which is a bit late, but I was lucky to have them at all.  I'm not sure how it happened, but I found some old battered paperbacks.  For anyone wishing to find copies in the US, you're in luck: new paperback editions were published just a couple of years ago!

Tove Marika Jansson (1914 - 2001) was born in Helsinki, to a family belonging to the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland.  They were a bohemian and artistic family (today they would be unschoolers!) and Tove started writing stories and producing artwork as a teen.  She continued to paint and write all her life and produced commissioned works of art for various clients.  She also ometimes worked in collaboration with her life partner Tuulikki Pietilä, a graphic artist.

The Moomintroll stories started off as fun little diversions with highly adventurous plots, but later evolved into somewhat calmer stories with more personality and more nature.  Jansson created a large and diverse population for her stories: Moomintrolls, their cousins the Snorks, Hemulens, and the spooky Hattifatteners, not to mention characters like Little My, Too-Ticky, and my own favorite Snufkin.   I would recommend Finn Family Moomintroll as a good place to start, but it is not terribly important which order you read them in.

In 1966, Jansson won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for her work.

The books became very popular indeed.  There have been TV shows and toys and postage stamps (hopefully one featuring the stamp-collecting Hemulen!).  In Japan, you can buy a wide range of Moomintroll toys--I have a keychain.

Moomintroll and Snufkin

Jansson also illustrated classic stories for Swedish editions, such as The Hobbit and Alice in Wonderland.  I haven't seen the Alice pictures, but the Hobbit illustrations are great--and you can see some of them here.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Children's Literature: L. M. Boston

Lucy M. Boston (1892–1990) was born Lucy Marie Wood.  She wrote the Green Knowe series of books, plus many others which we will also mention.  I grew up reading them and I love them to bits, but some folks disagree.  My husband read one to the kids and he thought it was creepy and weird.  I guess I like creepy and weird.

Boston had what sounds to me like quite an interesting childhood.  Her family was middle-class and Victorian, with six children, but her father was a zealous Methodist and decorated the whole house accordingly, with a rather strange drawing room filled with items from the Holy Land.  Her mother, according to Boston, was more suited to be a nun than a mother. 

After her father died, they moved around a bit and spent a year in the countryside, which was wonderful for the young Lucy.  She had a lifelong love of nature and gardening.  She attended school and then a finishing school in Paris, and then went to Oxford instead of joining the Wesleyan community as her mother wished.   From there, she became a nurse during World War I, until 1917 when she married a distant cousin, Harold Boston.  She had one son, Peter, but the marriage did not work out and she spent several years painting in Europe during the 1930s.

The Manor House at Hemmingford Grey
In 1937 Boston returned to England and bought a very old farmhouse that was in need of renovation.  It went all the way back to 1130 and is said to be "one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in the British Isles."  This house became the center of her life and the basis for the Green Knowe books.  She lived in it for 50 years, and only started writing stories after she turned 60.  She fixed up the house, turned the garden into a masterpiece, wrote a whole lot of books, and sewed 22 intricate original patchworks.

Boston wrote six books about Green Knowe, featuring children who met other children who had lived there in the past.  All the books are very atmospheric and rather spooky, though as I recall all the ghosts are friendly ones.  Her son Peter Boston illustrated the stories from the house, and when I was little I liked to look for his initials placed in odd spots in the pictures.  These are her most famous books, and there is a nice piece about them at SFGate.

But she also wrote other books, including a few for adults and teens.  Persephone, or Strongholds, is for teens and is supposed to be excellent.  The Sea Egg is an adventure about boys who find an unusual egg, which hatches a triton.   Nothing Said and The Guardians of the House are, like the Green Knowe books, atmospheric spooky stories.  And Boston's ghost stories have been collected in a book called Curfew.  Today you can hear those stories, and often M. R. James stories, performed at the house itself if you visit.

The Patchwork of the Crosses
You can see the house's website, which has some pictures of the house and garden (though not nearly enough). The biographical information given here is found in much more detail on Wikipedia, and it's well worth reading.  I couldn't find a good biographical sketch anywhere else, so sorry about the source, but it all appears to be taken from Boston's memoirs, Perverse and Foolish, and Memory in a House, which now I want to read!  Even more, I would like to track down the book about her patchworks, The Patchworks of Lucy Boston.  It seems to be fairly hard to come by.  I did find a picture of one of the quilts, though.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Children's Literature: P. L. Travers

P. L. Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Australia, in 1899.  She grew up in Queensland and New South Wales, and started writing poetry as a teenager.  She trained as an actress and adopted the name Pamela Lyndon Travers as a stage name.  After some years with a Shakespearean company in Australia, she emigrated to England in 1924.  There she focused more on her writing (she particularly admired and emulated J. M. Barrie) and continued to use her stage name.

In 1933 Travers wrote Mary Poppins, a story about some naughty children who get a new nurse.  Mary Poppins is grumpy, vain, and impatient, but the children love her all the more.  They have magic adventures, which Mary Poppins always angrily denies afterwards.  This series became very popular and was eventually adapted into a Disney film, which Travers quite disliked.  She felt she was badly treated (which she was, though it also sounds like she tried to demand some pretty unreasonable things, such as the animation sequences being taken out--after the film premiere!).  I find that most people have seen the movie but never read the books, which is why I include Travers here--please go read the books!  They are lots of fun and very different from the movie.  I think they are much better.

The first Mary Poppins book has a chapter called "Bad Tuesday," which originally contained some racial stereotypes that were, at best, really embarrassing.  Mary takes the children on a visit around the world and they meet people from north, south, east, and west.  In 1981, Travers re-wrote the chapter to feature animals instead.  I'm actually not wild about the animals either, even though I think the idea behind the chapter is great. 

My own favorite adventure is "Bad Wednesday," which is in the second book.  It's scary and creepy.  Every kid should read it!

Travers wrote several other books besides the Mary Poppins stories, and I'd like to particularly point out I Go By Sea, I Go By Land.  This is the 'diary' of an 11-year-old girl, Sabrina, who has left her home in England because of World War II and is traveling with her brother James across the ocean to the United States.  It's somewhat based on Travers' own experience escorting two children on the same trip (she is a character in the book, though a minor one).  It's a really great book, one that is no longer well-known at all, and I hope you'll read it if you get the chance.

Like so many good writers (maybe just like so many people), Travers seems to have maybe been a little difficult to live with sometimes.  She adopted a baby boy (named Camillus!) but refused to take his twin brother, so the boys were separated.  They did reunite later in life.  Who does that??

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reading Update

Adam is a demanding challenge host.  It's January 15th and he's already asking for an update!  Now you may have noticed that while I've been posting incredibly fascinating introductions to classic children's authors, I haven't actually produced any book reviews yet this year (oh, I guess I did--but they were for books finished before the New Year).  It must be some sort of record for me not to have finished a single book in the last two weeks!  I have two excuses: things have been very busy indeed, and also I've been reading several really long books at the same time.

Last year at this time I was polishing off an average of a book a day.  I must have had a very quiet vacation, because so far this month I've barely had a chance to sit down with a book!  We've had family visiting from far away, we spent a day doing historical re-enactment at Sutter's Fort (which requires a lot of preparation, and I honestly had a rotten attitude about the whole thing and then I had to repent when it turned out to be a great day, with perfect sunny weather even), and school started back up long before I was ready for it.  I don't even go back to work until next week and I'm feeling overwhelmed!

So here are the books I am reading right now--you'll see why I haven't finished any.  The page numbers are approximate.

Anna Karenina--600/900+ pages
Portrait of a Lady--250/800 pages
India: A Sacred Geography--150/450 pages
Five Billion Vodka Bottles to the Moon--nearly finished with this normally-sized book!
Reached: 150/500 pages

I'm reading too many books that are too long all at once.  I had thought that Anna Karenina was on my list for Adam's challenge--it would certainly qualify--but apparently I didn't put it on that particular list at all.  I just now figured this out.  Dang.  So, all this is to say that I have not yet even started on my RBR TBR Challenge list, even though I thought I had.  But I'm enjoying all of them very much, so it's all good.

Children's Literature: Walter de la Mare

Walter de la Mare (1873 – 1956), first of all, hated being named Walter.  Everyone called him Jack.  (Maybe that was the default name for Brits saddled with overly posh names?)  Also, his last name always looks to me like it should be pronounced Mar, I don't know why, but it's not--it's Mare with a long A.

Anyway, he was one of the very influential poetic types for children right around the turn of the century and into the 1920s.  E. Nesbit was writing stories about really ordinary children, but de la Mare was more of a dreamy type, it seems to me.  He produced collections of folktales and poetry, and wrote plenty of stories and poetry of his own too.  In our house we have several collections, one of animal tales, one of his own stories called A Penny a Day, and a couple of poetry he wrote--Rhymes and Verses was released in an inexpensive hardback a few years back, so we have that.

I think the 1923 book called Come Hither is the best known.  It's a collection of de la Mare's favorites, arranged thematically, and features material from all over the place--medieval, Georgian, ballads, you name it.  One interesting thing about the collection is the footnotes, which take up nearly a third of the book, and contain not only odd details, but entire stories and poems too, and bits of old spells, folklore, and so on.  I had to keep two bookmarks in it.  The other thing about the book is the framing device--the poetry is all contained in a rather spooky story that turns it all into a book of spells or wisdom.  (My copy is an old prize copy stamped with the crest of Colet Court, the prep school for St. Paul's, where de la Mare went, which I guess explains why Colet Court would give it as a prize.  But probably half the schools in England were giving Come Hither as a prize back then.)  The book was something of a hit and was released in several editions.

I did not know before today that de la Mare also wrote quite a few ghost stories!  I'm going to have to track some down and read them. 

You can find a complete bibliography along with a good biographical sketch at The Poetry Foundation, so I encourage you to take a look at that.  It's quite likely that if you were given much poetry when you were young, you will remember some of his poems as ones you have read.

I've included de la Mare's best-known poem for you:

      Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
      Knocking on the moonlit door;
      And his horse in the silence champ'd the grasses
      Of the forest's ferny floor:
      And a bird flew up out of the turret,
      Above the Traveller's head:
      And he smote upon the door again a second time;
      'Is there anybody there?' he said.
      But no one descended to the Traveller;
      No head from the leaf-fringed sill
      Lean'd over and look'd into his grey eyes,
      Where he stood perplex'd and still.
      But only a host of phantom listeners
      That dwelt in the lone house then
      Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
      To that voice from the world of men:
      Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
      That goes down to the empty hall,
      Hearkening in an air stirr'd and shaken
      By the lonely Traveller's call.
      And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
      Their stillness answering his cry,
      While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
      'Neath the starr'd and leafy sky;
      For he suddenly smote on the door, even
      Louder, and lifted his head:--
      'Tell them I came, and no one answer'd,
      That I kept my word,' he said.
      Never the least stir made the listeners,
      Though every word he spake
      Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
      From the one man left awake:
      Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
      And the sound of iron on stone,
      And how the silence surged softly backward,
      When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Children's Literature: Padraic Colum

We're going to go back a bit in time again, to the early 20th century.  Padraig Colum (1881 - 1972) was born in a workhouse (!), but that was where his father actually worked.  After Mr. Colum lost that job, he  emigrated temporarily to Colorado while his large family stayed in Ireland.  Padraig was educated in Dublin and got a job there, but started writing on his own time.  He got involved with the Gaelic League, became friendly with Irish literary people like Yeats and Joyce, and collected folk songs.  Colum wrote plays, poetry, and founded a literary magazine too. In 1914, he and his wife went on a visit to the US, and it turned into a years-long stay.

While in the US, Colum started writing for children, which is why we have this post now.  He started with The King of Ireland's Son in 1916, a long re-telling of an Irish folktale (if you're lucky you might find it in the children's room of your library--it's a good read-aloud).  Then he did more mythology and produced excellent re-tellings of Greek tales in The Tale of Troy, The Adventures of Odysseus, and The Golden Fleece, as well as Norse myths in The Children of Odin.  We have several of these books and they are great for middle-grade children.

After that, Colum was commissioned to write collections of Hawaiian stories.  He produced three volumes: Legends of Hawaii, The Bright Islands, and At the Gateways of the Day.  I don't know if these were the first volumes of Hawaiian stories produced for non-Hawaiian children, but I think they may have been.

For many years, Colum and his wife moved between the US and Ireland, where they taught and wrote and wrote and taught.  Padraig Colum died at the age of 90 in 1978.  I hope you'll try out some of his works.  Also, I found out how to pronounce his name: it's Pau'drig Column.