Monday, January 17, 2022

Classics Monday - Romanticism, L.M. Montgomery, and Anne of Green Gables


I recently started re-reading the Anne of Green Gables stories and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. I'll be honest with you; I really did not expect to like the stories this much. The style of writing that L.M. Montgomery used in her stories - Romanticisim - is flowery, sentimental, and sometimes a little overly sweet for our modern sensibilities. 
   Romanticism was a literary movement that emphasized individualism and emotion. The Romantic era lasted from the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, but its effects are still evident throughout modern literature.

L.M. Montgomery
   Romantic works were a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment and the   advancing Industrial Age, a time in which science and rationalization   began to take firmer hold in the public consciousness. Romantic   literature challenged this new wave of ideas by telling stories rooted in   emotion, nature, idealism, and the subjective experiences of common   men and women.
   It’s important to note that romanticism, as a literary movement, is not   the same thing as the literary genre of romance novels. Romanticism   may be an influence on today’s romance novels, but romance novels do   not typically possess all the elements central to Romantic-era literature. Also, the term Romantic does not refer directly to romantic love. It comes from the medieval French romaunt, the term for an epic, chivalrous quest told in verse.
   What I like about the Anne books is that, unlike many other authors of that time, the female characters in these stories are not idealized; they are not presented as "innocent, na├»ve bundles of perfection that needed sheltering and, in some cases, outright worship." They are flawed, and funny, and kind, and rude, and sometimes even downright annoying. 
      If you have a love of words, and an interest in stories that grow and evolve with the characters, then the Anne of Green Gables books will suit you. They are entertaining, and they are gently funny because Anne herself is an amusing and delightful character. 

Anne of Green Gables
Ages 10 and up
Random House, 1982 , 978-0553213133
To the amazement of the good people of Avonlea, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, a brother and sister who never married, have decided that they are going to adopt an orphan boy; Matthew is no longer as young as he used to be and he could do with a little help around the farm. The thing of it is, when Matthew goes to get the boy from the train station he discovers that some kind of mix-up has taken place, and there is a girl waiting for him at the station and not a boy. She's not just any girl either. This girl has flaming red hair, she never seems to stop talking, and what she says can be very peculiar and very funny.
   Though Anne Shirley has had very little education, she has somehow picked up a lot of ideas, and she is a bottomless well of questions. Matthew, who normally is rather afraid of little girls, is quite bewitched by the strange and fanciful child. At first Marilla is convinced that Anne should be returned to the orphan asylum as soon as is possible, but Anne, in just a few days, grows on her too. Matthew is convinced that Anne should stay, and before Marilla quite knows what is what, Anne is settled into one of the gable bedrooms in the Cuthbert house.
   Marilla with her sharp tongue and old-fashioned ideas, and Matthew with his gentle, quiet and generous ways, soon find themselves severely tried by the “scrapes” that Anne gets into. No matter how hard she tries, Anne still manages to ‘find’ trouble.
   There is the time when Anne gets her best friend Diana quite drunk by accident. On another occasion Anne puts some very unexpected flavoring in a cake; she mistakes a bottle of iodine for a bottle of vanilla and the result is too dreadful to eat. One day Anne plays the part of a poetical heroine only to discover that the boat in which she is sitting is sinking.
   When she is not getting into trouble, Anne is coming up with all sorts of ideas, the more “romantic” they are the better. Anne’s biggest asset, perhaps, is that she has an “imagination.” Of course this gift gets her into scrapes sometimes, but it also makes her life endlessly amusing and interesting, and others find themselves gravitating towards her, wanting to hear her funny sayings, her stories, and her imaginings.
   In what seems like no time at all, Anne is a very much loved member of the Avonlea community. There is no doubt that Marilla thinks the world of her, though she would never admit as such. Anne is a little bundle of sunny energy who gets many of the people around her thinking and doing things that are quite out of the ordinary.
   Though this book was originally written at the turn of the century, and though the writing style and some of the ideas and sentiments expressed in the book are somewhat old-fashioned, there is no doubt that the irrepressible little redhead who decries “woe,” and similar dramatic phrases, is timeless in her appeal. Anne Shirley is funny, loveable, and at times she sets her world on its head with her antics. What she also does is to give her love and affection freely, and she is generous and well-meaning. The little girl who never had a real family and who was starved for love finally, now has a home of her own, and we delight in her good fortune. We also enjoy sharing her various adventures,  seeing her triumphs, and laughing out loud at some of her more outrageous mistakes. With grace and obvious affection, L.M. Montgomery shares her Prince Edward Island world with us, and shows us that good things can still happen to good people.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Appreciate a dragon with a review of A tale of Two Castles

I would love to live in a world where dragons and humans could live side by side, working together. Imagine if you could hire a dragon to help you find out information about your family, or find your dog if it gets lost. In the town of Two Castles there is a dragon that provides these, and many other, services. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could work for a dragon as an investigator?  I think it would, and today I bring you the story of a girl who becomes apprenticed to just such a dragon. 

A Tale of Two Castles 
Gail Carson Levine
Illustrated by Greg Call 
For ages 9 to 12
Harper Collins, 2011, 978-0061229657
The time has come for Elodie to leave her home and her family, to journey to the town of Two Castles so that she can be apprenticed to a weaver. Elodie's parents want her to take this position, but Elodie has no intention of becoming a weaver. Instead, she wants to become a mansioner (an actor) and she feels that she has a good chance of finding a place once she gets to Two Castles.
   With an aching heart, Elodie boards a cog (boat) and a new chapter in her life begins. She is not on the cog long before she finds out that the business people in Two Castles are no longer accepting apprentices who cannot pay them a fee for taking them on. Poor Elodie only has enough money to pay for a few meals. She wonders if she might persuade one of the masters or mistresses to take her on for fifteen years. Surely, they will jump at the chance to have “free labor” for such a long period of time.
   Soon after arriving in Two Castles, Elodie is robbed by a cat, she sees a count who is an ogre, and meets a dragon called Meenore. Elodie tries to get an apprenticeship with one of the mansioner companies, but is told that the only way she can get an apprenticeship is if she pays the master mansioner money, which she does not have. To her surprise, Meenore invites Elodie to become ITs (dragons keep their gender a secret) apprentice. Her job will be to proclaim the dragon’s “powers of deduction, induction, and common sense,” to help Meenore to prepare the skewers of bread and cheese that IT sells in the market and to help IT with IT’s “many responsibilities.” In return, the dragon will give Elodie food, lodging, and a small salary.
   Elodie helps her new master in ITs daily doings, and then Count Jonty Um comes to Meenore and asks IT to find his lost dog. Elodie goes to live in the count’s castle, posing as a servant as she tries to find the missing dog. Meenore warns Elodie that the count is not well like by the people of Two Castles, and that many of them wish him ill. She must keep her eye on him as well as look for the dog. When she accepts the charge, Elodie never imagines that she will soon witness an attempted murder, and that she herself will be in mortal danger.
   Gail Carson Levine truly has an extraordinary gift. She is able to create a world that is entirely credible, characters that are so alive that we feel that we know them, and stories that are captivating and addictive. Readers who have a fondness for mysteries and adventures will thoroughly enjoy this delightful tale.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Appreciate a Dragon with a review of A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans


There are very few dragon-centric stories that are written from the dragon's point of view, which I think is a dreadful injustice. I am sure the reason why dragons are so often portrayed as fearsome beasts is because dragons are so rarely given a voice, a chance to express their views. Thankfully, Laurence Yep and his wife Joanne Ryder (marvelous writers both) have chosen to right this grievous wrong; and about time too. I should say here that Laurence Yep is a true dracophile, and you can read more about him below the review.  
   In today's Appreciate a Dragon book title, I bring you a wonderful title that is funny and sweet. On the pages you will meet a very proper dragon lady who finds herself stuck with a human child who simply does not understand 'how things are supposed to be done.'

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans 
Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder
Illustrated by Mary GrandPre 
Fiction  Series
For ages 8 to 12
Random House, 2016, 978-0385392310
Miss Drake the dragon has suffered a great loss. Her pet human, Fluffy, has died, and the dragon is grieving. She is considering sleeping for a few decades until she feels less miserable. She is even considering not getting another pet at all. After all, humans are so fragile and they don’t live very long.
   Miss Drake therefore gets rather annoyed when a small human girl barges into her home without having the decency to call or send a note first. The girl is called Winnie, and she is Fluffy’s great-niece. Unfortunately, she has none of Fluffy’s gentle ways and good manners. Winnie is not at all impressed with Miss Drake and her home, and she makes her disappointment quite clear, which is really very shocking. Humans are supposed to look up to, nay even revere, dragons. That is how things are supposed to be done.
   The problem is that Winnie is a very independent child. She has not had an easy life, and it is only since the death of her aunt that her life has become relatively comfortable and stable. Winnie therefore knows how to cope in an unpredictable world and she is not easily impressed. Nor does she automatically give a dragon the respect she is due.
   Miss Drake does her best to get rid of the child, but Winnie, who has heard about the dragon from her great-aunt, refuses to be dismissed. She has a key to Miss Drake’s home (given to her by her aunt) and she waltzes in, expecting Miss Drake to play games with her and serve her tea. Miss Drake begins to realize that she is going to have to take Winnie in hand, whether she likes it or not. For Fluffy’s sake Miss Drake will do her duty no matter how unpleasant it is.
   When Miss Drake tries to sneak out of her back door to go shopping, she finds out that Winne has padlocked the door, and when she tries to use her front door that is padlocked too. Winnie will only free the dragon if Miss Drake asks her to do so. Politely. Gritting her teeth, Miss Drake complies, and then, not knowing what else to do, she takes Winnie shopping with her.
   It turns out that dragons and other magicals living in the San Francisco area have a special shop that they patronize. At the moment the Emporium is located on a cloud above the city, and that is where Miss Drake, with Winnie on her back, goes. After dealing with a few unpleasant magicals who are out to create trouble, Miss Drake and Winnie look around the incredible shop, and Miss Drake buys a few things, including a sketchbook for Winnie. The child is a gifted artist and Miss Drake wants to encourage her. Plus, she hopes having the sketchbook will keep Winnie occupied and out of trouble for a little while at least. Miss Drake never imagines that the sketchbook is going to create a number of very challenging problems, one of which could threaten the whole city of San Francisco.
   In this wonderful story, readers will meet a dragon who unexpectedly acquires a new ‘pet;' a pet that turns out to be a very troublesome creature. However, the dragon does come to appreciate that the girl has some pleasing, even admirable, qualities. Readers will enjoy seeing how the relationship between the two main characters develops, and will be delighted to enter a world where magic is alive and well.

Biography of Laurence Yep:
Yep was born in San Francisco to Yep Gim Lew (Thomas) and Franche. His older brother, Thomas, named him after studying a particular saint in a multicultural neighborhood that consisted of mostly African Americans. Growing up, he often felt torn between U.S. and Chinese culture, and expressed this in many of his books. A great deal of his work involves characters feeling alienated or not fitting into their surroundings and environment, something Yep has struggled with since childhood. Most of his life, he has had the feeling of being out of place, whether because he is the non athlete in his athletic family or because he is Chinese and once lived in Chinatown but does not speak the language. As it says in his autobiography, "I was too American to fit into Chinatown, and too Chinese to fit in anywhere else." As a boy, Yep attended a bilingual school in Chinatown. He attended Marquette University and graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He earned a Ph.D in English at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
   Laurence Yep's most notable collection of works is the Golden Mountain Chronicles, documenting the fictional Young family from 1849 in China to 1995 in America. Two of the series are Newbery Honor Books, or runners-up for the annual Newbery Medal: Dragonwings and Dragon's Gate. Dragonwings won the Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association in 1995, recognizing the best children's book published twenty years earlier that did not win a major award. It won the Carter G. Woodson Book Award in 1976, and has been adapted as a play under its original title. Another of the Chronicles, Child of the Owl won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for children's fiction in 1977. The Rainbow People, Yep's collection of short stories based on Chinese folktales and legends, was a Horn Book runner-up in 1989.
   In 2005 the professional children's librarians awarded Yep the biennial Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, which recognizes a living author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made "a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children". The committee noted that "Yep explores the dilemma of the cultural outsider" with "attention to the complexity and conflict within and across cultures" and it cited four works in particular: Dragonwings, The Rainbow People, The Khan's Daughter, and the autobiographical The Lost Garden.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Classic Book Monday with a review of The Reluctant Dragon


January 16th is Appreciate A Dragon day, and since I really do love dragons I plan on writing several dragon book posts this month. Some years ago I wrote a serialized story about a dragon, and my dragon character is very dear to my heart. I frankly admit that he feels very real to me, and I miss writing about his adventures; I miss spending time with him. Perhaps it is time to resume his narrative? 
   Today I bring you one of the great dragon stories, a classic tale about a dragon who absolutely refuses to attack human settlements, eat maidens, or fight knights. He is a gentle, bookish soul, which naturally endears him to me. Readers of all ages will enjoy this story, which is deliciously funny. 

The Reluctant Dragon 
Kenneth Grahame
Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard 
For ages 7 and up
Holiday House, 2020, 978-0823447251
Once day a shepherd comes back from his work tending his sheep in a real state. It would appear that there is a dragon living in a cave on the Downs, and everyone knows that dragons and sheep just don’t mix. Luckily for everyone, the shepherd’s son is a scholarly young fellow and he announces that he - knowing more about dragons than everyone else - will take care of the scaly problem.
   The boy and the dragon soon strike up a pleasant acquaintance and the boy soon learns that the dragon is a "lazy beast" who is not in the slightest bit interested in fighting knights or eating maidens. He is quite happy to rest quietly, write sonnets, and mind his own business. The problem is that the dragon simply cannot seem to grasp the idea that people have a terrible preconceived notions about dragons. What on earth is the boy to do with this reluctant dragon who won’t fight to protect himself when Saint George, of dragon slaying fame, comes to town?
   Using the rich language that he is famous for, Kenneth Grahame takes us back to time when dragons were a part of everyday living and when little boys could indeed have wonderful adventures. The characters, many of whom have a touch of the South Downs accent in their 'voices,' are charming, funny, and often surprising. Ernest H. Shepard, whose drawings of Pooh are beloved by so many, has superbly captured the essence of the story in his artwork. Sophie Blackall, whose own books have won numerous awards, has written a foreword for this special anniversary edition.
   All in all this is a book to treasure for years to come, and it would make an excellent addition to a collection of classic children’s literature.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Ways of seeing - With a review of A Stone Sat Still

Generally speaking we humans are always in a hurry, and we are so used to being a hurry that we don't really know how to live when we are not in a hurry. I used to be a just such a person, until ill-health forced me to slow down. When you aren't always pushing yourself to get to what comes next, you start to notice what is here, right now, and in front of your face. You see a weed pushing its way through a concrete pavement, a bird's nest resting in a rose bush, the way the light touches the floor in a room, the beauty in a acorn that is resting on a bed of vivid, green moss. 
   In today's book we read about a stone. It is just a normal stone, and yet it is an extraordinary object that serves many purposes, is seen through many eyes, and 'interacts' with a wide variety of living things. It turns out that stone can be a miraculous thing if you look at it the right way. 

A Stone Sat Still 
Brendan Wenzel
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2019, 978-1-4521-7318-4
Next to a stream there was a stone. It sat on a little hill of earth, and green things grew around it. It was just a stone being a stone. And yet, this stone was not just a stone for the creatures that lived on it and around it. 
   Through the eyes of an owl it shone white in the moonlight like a beacon. For a chipmunk it was a place of darkness, and so the little animal kept watch as it nibbled a nut. After all, you never knew what might be hiding in such a puddle of dark. 
   For a seagull the stone was a place of loud noises, for it used the stone’s surface to crack open shells.  For a little snake the stone is a place of quiet where it can lie and bask in the warmth of the sun. 
   As the seasons unfolded the stone changed color; it was green in summer, covered in red leaves in fall, it was purple in spring, and blue in winter. To a moose it was a mere pebble, but to a tiny insect it was a hill. 
   For some animals the stone was a place that was covered with scented messages that they could read if they wished. For others it was a place to sit and dine. For geese in the sky it was a marker, and for a little ant it was a map. 
   From moment to moment the stone took on a different role depending on who was looking at it, or interacting with it.
   Often, when we see an object we see it as one thing - one obvious thing. Surely a stone is just a stone? It turns out that a stone can be many things to many different kinds of living creatures, and its role will change over time because nothing stays the same. 
   As they explore this book, readers of all ages will find themselves pausing every so often to consider. They will realize that a simple stone is not so simple after all. They will perhaps take the time to consider the story of other ‘simple’ things that they see around them. What kind of story might a leaf tell? Or a blade of grass?


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Times of hardship with a review of Ida B... and her plans to Maximize fun, avoid disaster and (Possibly) save the world

There is no doubt that all of us have been touched by this wretched pandemic. Some of us have been sick, some have lost loved ones, and we have all lived with this appalling cloud of fear, worry, and even anger hanging over us. How on earth do we cope with something like this? How do our children cope with all these changes, and losses, and uncertainty?
   Today I bring you a book in which you will meet a girl whose perfect, happy life very suddenly becomes miserably imperfect. The story is touching and inspiring. It will make you laugh and cry. Though this is a book for children, I think that adults will enjoy it as well. Read it to a child, read it for yourself. Just read it. 

Ida B... and her plans to Maximize fun, avoid disaster and (Possibly) save the world 
Katherine Hannigan
For ages 9 and up
HarperCollins, 2011, 978-0060730260
Ida B is an extremely happy nine-year-old. Her parents have the good sense not to send her to a school which she hates. Instead, she is homeschooled and she loves it. She loves living on the farm with her Mama and her Daddy, and she loves her conversations with the apple trees in the orchard, and her talks with the burbling stream. She loves the games that she plays with herself, and the walks that she takes with Daddy in the evenings. Everything is "righter than right."
   Then one day the apple trees warn her that hard times are coming. Ida does not want to believe them. What could possibly go wrong with her perfect life? What happens is that Mama gets cancer and everything changes. First of all Mama is sick all the time and so she cannot give Ida B the attention she is used to having. Then Daddy has to sell some of their land to pay for Mama's medical bills. Ida B is appalled. How can Daddy sell some of their beloved orchard and let strangers cut down some of her trees? Then, to top it off, Daddy tells her that she has to go to school, neither he nor Mama are in a position to homeschool her. Ida B feels completely betrayed and  she decides there and then that she is never going to allow herself to trust or to love anyone again.
   So Ida B goes to school and she goes through the motions of living, but she doesn't let anyone, not even her parents, get close to her. She also begins a campaign against the family who bought the land her father sold. Perhaps if she is as unwelcoming as possible they will go away and give the land back.
   This book has a decidedly magical quality that is hard to resist. Ida B's struggles with her own feelings are so true to life that readers will start to feel that they know her, that perhaps that they have always known her. They will recognize her anger and then later, they will recognize her struggles as she tries to stay angry even when her heart wants to give in.

Monday, January 3, 2022

The January Bookish Calendar and Classic Book Monday with a review of The Hobbit


Dear Bookish Friends, 

Happy New Year! Another uncertain year lies ahead of us, but one thing that we can be certain of is that there is a wealth of good books out there for ourselves and for the children in our lives. Thank goodness for that!

First of all, as it is the beginning of the month, I would like to direct you to the January Bookish Calendar. Here you will find a calendar on which are noted the birthdays of famous people. Many of these notations have links to books about the people in question. Special days, such as Appreciate a Dragon Day (January 16th), are also on the calendar. As I have a deep fondness for dragons, I shall be sharing several dragon books with you this month.  

You will see on this calendar that January the 3rd is J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday. There is a link on the calendar to reviews of books about the author. Thank you, dear man, for your stories, the worlds that you created, and your marvelous characters. In honor of his birthday I bring you a review of The Hobbit on this Classic Book Monday. 

What many of you might not know is that Tolkien was an accomplished artist. The image at the top of this page is one of the pieces that he created for The Hobbit. There is a marvelous book, The art of the Hobbit that was published in 2012 in which his art for this book is showcased. I shall be buying a copy of this book for myself today! 

The Hobbit
J.R.R. Tolkien
For ages 10 and up
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, 978-0547928227
Bilbo Baggins is very happy with his quiet life in his comfortable hobbit hole under the hill. Meals areoften, abundant, and predictable, and everything is as it should be. He is therefore very discombobulated when Gandalf the wizard appears on his doorstep one day, and he tries to get rid of the disturbing old man as quickly as possible. He is even more horrified when thirteen dwarves and Gandalf arrive for tea the very next day. It would appear that they want Bilbo to join them on an adventure. The dwarves want to get back the treasure that Smaug the dragon stole from them, and they want to hire Bilbo to help them; he will be their "burglar." Bilbo very much wants to refuse this offer, and yet for some confusing reason this fails to happen. Before he quite knows what is happening, Bilbo is riding on a pony, heading off on an adventure which may very well be his undoing.
   As it happens, the dwarves are very lucky that they took Bilbo with them for he saves their lives several times over. Not only is he quick thinking and brave, but he also finds a ring of invisibility, which makes it possible for him to do all kinds of remarkable things.
   In the end, quiet little Mr. Baggins does indeed fulfill his role as the expedition's burglar. In the process he becomes very fond of a side of himself that he otherwise would never have discovered; he learns that he is able to out-riddle an evil little cave-dwelling monster; he can fight huge spiders; he figures out how to rescue his friends from captivity; and he even talks to a huge dragon. It would appear that Bilbo is more than just an unassuming little hobbit who likes to have his meals on time. That other side of his character helps him rise to challenges that would fell many, and he thus earns the respect and admiration of elves, dwarves, and men alike.
   This is a tale that has truly stood the test of time, and it has delighted readers of all ages since its publication in 1937. Tolkien is without a doubt one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

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