Oh, good Heavens!

12 Jun

My intentions are still pure but I am so far behind….

In actuality, I have three books to post about and I’m reading a fourth.  I just can’t seem to find time to blog about it!

Also, I’ve discovered a problem.  I don’t LIKE all of these books.  I really pushed hard to get through the first book, “The Story of Mankind”a and it was not fun.  I want this to be a fun project!  So, I’ll keep plugging at it, and I’ll post on a new book soon.  Meanwhile, please forgive me for my slow progress, I’ll get through it!!

1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins

25 Apr

1961:  Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Pages Read: 184

Current page total:  2751

In addition to this Newbery Award, Scott O’Dell has written three Newbery honor books, some of which I hope to read, once I get through this stack!

I admit it:  I loved this book as a 5th grader, I loved it in high school, and it was a real treat to re-read it this time, too.  It’s a bittersweet story based on a true story of a woman who is left behind on an island after her tribe is removed.  She lived alone for 18 years.  Her story can be found here.  Scott O’Dell’s story is her life in his imagination, as believable as he could make it.  As a young girl interested in crafts and the outdoors, I could imagine myself with the community, strining shells for jewelry, gathering mussels for food.  When she throws herself off the ship to save her brother, I could imagine doing that, too.  Books with strong young women were rare back then and I loved every paragraph of this one.

I remember crying and feeling great anger when her brother died shortly after they had been left behind.  She was stranded, frightened,with a pack of wild dogs to contend with as well as occasional fishermen whom she feared almost more.

The loneliness I could easily imagine:  I grew up in a busy suburb of Minneapolis in a large family.  I couldn’t imagine being without others constantly around — whether or not you were enjoying their company.  The story of her befriending one of those wild dogs was something I couldn’t even imagine.  I still feel admiration for her bravery and skills.

Her rescue must have been abrupt for her, and I have no idea how she felt after her rescue.  Did she want to be rescued?  Did she feel fulfilled once she was back with humanity?  No one understood her language, and the dietary changes were so great that she died of dysentery just a few weeks after her rescue.  There are so many things that I wondered back then that I still wonder, even after having read some biographical information about her.  This story brings to life the majority of her life and — I hope — does honor to a woman who survived and lived well, despite the odds.

1932: Waterless Mountain

25 Apr

1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer

Pages Read: 212

Current page total:  2567

This book is set in Navajo country in northern Arizona in the late 1920s. The main character is referred to as Younger Brother . At the beginning of the book, he is eight, and he is at least 12 by the end. The Waterless Mountain of the title may be the Kaibab Limestone formation north of the Grand Canyon, which was porous and had few sources of water.

This is a story of a Navajo boy who is learning to be a medicine man.  Thauthor spent time living with the Navajo people and the legends told and much of the portrayal of the people and their lives seem to be authentic.  It was difficult for me to “get into” the narrative of the book, but I think I’ve been having a hard time reading anything these days.

Contemporaneous reviews generally praise the book, but note some weaknesses. Anne T. Eaton, in the October 18, 1931 New York Times (“New Children’s Books, page 70), wrote, “Nothing in the book is finer than the author’s presentation of the poet of a primitive people and his response to the beauty and mystery with which he feels himself surrounded. The beauty and mysticism may appeal primarily to adults, but there is sufficient incident and action to hold the attention of younger readers, and they, too, will feel the book’s atmosphere.”  Aimee here:  Love the use of the word “primitive (not)”  Buyt this was 80 years ago.

I think, for the time it was written, that this book is a better example of one about another culture than most. Although the author is not Native American, she spent many years observing them and grew to be accepted by them. It is appropriate for older children, ages 9 and up. I loved the pictures i envisioned of the various legends, ceremonies, and arts (Younger Brother’s mother weaves and his father makes silver and turquoise jewelry, while sand painting and pottery are also discussed).   There is a spinning (wool) technique called “Navajo Plying” where one gets a three ply yarn out of a single spool of yarn.  Yarn that is spun and used as a single (unplied) is very difficult to work with and becomes easily knotted.  the Navajo ply technique is elegant and simple, and a fine way to make a fiinely spun yarn more workable,    I would love to weave a Navajo rug, even once.

There is a fascinating biography of Laura Adams Armer, author/photographer/artist, with further links at the Women Artists of the American West Women in Photography Archive. The Forest Pool was named a Caldecott Honor book in 1939. The book is available at Multnomah County Library!  And but you can see illustrations from the book at the Humboldt Arts Council website. The Forest Pool followed Armer’s visit to Mexico. Her talent is remarkable.

1931: The Cat who Went to Heaven

19 Apr

1931:  The Cat who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth

Pages Read: 62

Current page total:  2375

Yet again, a story from overseas written by an American. I know it’s not authentic, but it’s one sweet story.  It is a fairy tale set in Japan by a prolific American author, but a well-traveled American so – to me anyway – the story feels less American than I had feared at first.

Our hero is a starving  artist who ekes out his living selling a few paintings to support himself and his housekeeper.  On her way to market one day, she brings home a cat, which infuriates the artist (who would have preferred his dinner).  However, the cat soon becomes a member of the household and the artist begins to feel kindly toward the cat, whom they have chosen to name Good Fortune.  Not long afterwards, the artist receives a commission that will make his fortune for the rest of his life:  The priests at the Buddhist Temple have selected him to create a large painting of the Buddha on his death bed.

He decides to paint the Buddha giving his final blessing to many animals, and each animal, each brush stroke is carefully considered and thought out, as this painting must be just right!  It is evidently well-known that the Buddha did not like cats (you’ll have to read the book because I am not telling).  Of course the artist paints a cat in, to the absolute IRE of the priest who commissioned the work, and the rest is, well, a fairy tale.  It’s not a long book , this is not a long report.  Go read the book — or if you really want to know, ask me.  I don’t mind telling.


New rules

19 Apr

I’ve fallen way behind!!  Wow.  I have two books to post and I’ll get to them soon.  However, the rules are changing — well, only one rule, really, but it’s an important one.

The books may be read ini any order the author feels appropriate.

This rule has come about because my fifth grader, Martin, has informed me that when I get to a book his class just studied, he wants to read it with me.  Well, at this rate, he’ll bhe in 8th grade and will have lost interest in the book and that strikes me as remarkably short sighted.  So I am changing the rule.  Hope y’all don’t mind.

Also, I apologize for my tardiness.  Health issues had had the front seat for a bit and I am making them sit in the back.  I’ll be back soon.

1930: Hitty: Her First Hundred Years

29 Mar

1930:  Hitty:  Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field

Pages read: 207

Current page total:  2313

So:  this is the first book In the Newbery collection that anyone I knew had already read.  I feel like that’s an important milestone.  Also, I apologize for the delay in getting this book finished.  Between  starting a gluten-free diet for my autistic kids and a second-degree burn on my hand, I’ve just set reading aside — but now I am back!

Wow.  What a story this doll has to tell!  Hitty is a doll who has been around for a hundred years (or had, when her memoir was publlished in 1929), and she’s been literally around the world.

Our Heroine introduces herself and her surroundings in an antique shop where she is taking advantage of the peace and quiet to tell her story.  Carved out of ash-wood for A llittle girl Named Phoebe Preble, she tells of adventures that include a shipwreck, being stuffed in a sofa for several years, getting lost in India and living with a snake charmer, meeting several quite famous people, and finally returning full circle in a way that I will not ruin for you today.  It’s a charming story.

The part of the story that interested me the most was her adoption by a young Quaker girl.  This was probably in the 1880’s I would guess, and – being a Quaker myself – I always like to see Quakers in literature to see how they were represented.  This particular family seemed well-portrayed for the time they were portrayed, which makes the rest of the book feel more authentic as a result.

I also found it interesting how the doll’s thoughts and attitudes changed with age.  In her first incarnation she was more interested in being prettily dressed, but after many adventures and then living with the plain Quakers, she was a little embarrassed by her overabundance of skirts at the hands of a new mistress. She certainly matured with age, even though the blush on her cheeks faded.

Now I just want to find out what has happened to her since then.  What would she have thought of of World War II?  Segregation?  Elvis Presley?  The lunar missions? Mini skirts?  the Bee Gees?  We’ll just have to puzzle these out for ourselves.

1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow

12 Mar

1929:  The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

Pages read: 208

Current page total:  2106

Oh, I liked this book, too. It had a young hero I could follow, the plot was just complicated enough, good guys, bad guys, a beautiful girl (who was just a wee bit of a feminist) and a satisfactory ending.  Something to get lost in.

It’s a work of fiction leading up to an actual fire that destroyed much of Krakow in 1462.   The trumpeters of Krakow, from the title, trumpet the hour with a traditional piece of music, from the spire of a church every hour, on the hour.  The melody is unfinished at the end, as a reference to a brave trumpeter who — years before — trumpeted a warning for the city until his dying breath, as the city was attacked by Cossacks.  Rotten Cossacks.

So here is a video of the actual trumpet hymn:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdG2jcwgu_g&feature=related

Turns out that our Hero’s family (His name is Joseph) has been hiding and guarding a treasure for several generations — the great Tarnov Crystal.  It has some mystical qualities and a lot of alchemists want to get their hands on it.  The bad guys are pretty crafty, and one adventure follows another, but eventually the crystal is given to the king.  This is where, I am led to believe, it should have been all along anyway, which of course made me wonder why the crystal hadn’t just been delivered by the family generations ago but I can’t ask the author.  And besides, it makes for a good story so I just suspended disbelief and carried about my business of reading.

So, yeah.  Joseph’s family has been chased from their home and driven to Krakow by a fellow who wants to steal the crystal.  His father gets the job as night trumpeter in the church — this helps keep him home during the day so he can’t be seen and recognized.  Joseph, however, starts attending University, and he IS out and about and recognized, and as a result, he has a series of wild adventures evading these nasty scoundrels.  I could say more, but let’s just say that all’s well in the end, and the story was wroth a read.

I was troubled by a few things, and I suppose this is part of the time capsule effect of an older book.  Jews are mentioned a few times, but only as a reference to the city where they live across the river.  The mention is somewhat benign although I thought I could hear a little derision in what I read.  Maybe I’m just sensitive.  And another thing:  the bad guys were always obvious because they were either ugly or deformed.  Sometimes both.  Now, anyone who watches politics or reads People magazine knows that liars and knaves are also quite beautiful and appealing, and that physically unattractive people are just as nice as anyone else.

Finally, I want to mention Elzbietka, Joseph’s neighbor and later sweetheart.  She’s a bright and wise girl who is quite likable.  Like I would expect of women of that era, she is very dependent on adults (mostly men) and – in her instance -her grandfather, and one expects she always will be.   I know, I’m writing in 2012, but it bugs me and I’m going to say it.  However, there is a conversation she has with Joseph where she maintains that women could be taught to read and be educated like men, why not?  Joseph at first starts to argue with her, but it seems he discovers no just argument and finally agrees with her.  She also makes a (great) point that poetry is much better in the common language where everyone can understand it, rather than Latin which is understandable only by a few.   She never goes to university, but her point is made.  I hope she at least learned to read.   One believes that Martin Luther would have liked her.

1928: Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon

8 Mar

1928:  Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji

Pages read: 195

Total page count:  1898

The Newbery committee has spent the last three years choosing books and stories written about or from other countries.  This one is from India and I liked it.  Mr. Mukerji grew up in India and this story is based, in part, from his experiences as a child in Calcutta.  He writes with such flavor, I could hear the narrative in my head with an Indian accent.

Raising homing pigeons seems to have been a common thing back then, and the story tells of boys in the neighborhood having as many as 40 at a time.  Our hero, Gay-Neck, is the favorite of all of the main character — of whom we are given no name.  Brightly colored plumage gave the bird his name.

Much of the book tells of boyhood adventures, including fascinating stories of trips to the countryside, visiting all sorts of people and places — even venturing several times into the Himalayas.  One thing that I am rather fond of is the reverence of the writer and the spirituality that seems to permeate his life.  I am a Quaker.  Many Quakers also practice Buddhism — which is often mentioned in the book — so I am familiar with the faith and practice thereof.  Hinduism is also (of course) present, and the tolerance and peace these belief systems teach are very important to the author.  I wonder how the American public understood this in 1928?

The tale is in two parts, although they are well-connected.  The early life of Gay-Neck and his master, their travels and the bird’s training make up interesting adventures, along which they meet a number of people as they visit other places.  The stories he tells about nights spent blissfully sleeping in the trees sounds like fun — if I were only 14 again!  On one adventure, our friend and his companion, Ghond, make a trek in the Himalayas where they spend several days, havingn lost Gay-neck, and are looking for him.  His fate seems dim.  They visit a Buddhist lamasery where they are made welcome, and he goes into some detail about the monks’ nightly practice of praying for eternal compassion throughout the world.  If only we all did that.

The Monks have rescued Gay-neck, and all is well again.

The second portion of the book dwells on a mission Ghond takes up during world war 1 which involves using Gay-Neck to carry important information about German territory.  Both the bird and Ghond are wounded – body and soul, although their mission is a success.  It is only after returning to the Lamasery that they are both restored to physical and mental health, through the patient prayers and ministrations of the monks.

So, yeah, I was really impressed with the spirituality interwoven with the story.  It’s not as much of the text as I am making it out here, it’s just that I was so touched by it.  The respect of one religion for the other is compelling to me, especially when we live now in a world so ridden by strife at the hands of religious extremists of so many varieties.


7 Mar

Well, I suppose you might wonder why all my previous posts were suddenly re-posted today.  Sorry about that.  I wanted to change my the layout of the blog from “book” format with an index and individual blog pages, back to a regular blog format.  The only way I could figure out how to do that was to transfer everything.  The bummer is that early comments have been lost, and the original publication dates have been changed to today.  Oh, well.  I hope it doesn’t happen again.  If you wish to re-comment, please do, but I won’t blame you if you just pick up from here and leave well enough alone.

Thanks for seeing me through!  On with the reading!

1927: Smoky, the Cowhorse

7 Mar

1927:  Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James

Pages Read:  245

Total page count:  1703

I found this book surprising in many ways.  The language the author chose to write in surprised me, using a cowboy dialect with sentences that  – at the beginning at least – were painfully long.  “Smoky wasn’t quite an hour old when he begin to take in interest in things, the warm spring sun was doing its work and kept a pouring warmth all over that slick little black hide and right on thru his little body till pretty soon his head come up kinda shaky and he begin nosing around them long front legs that was stretched out in front of him”.  Like that. And the way he interchanges the words “Stallion”, “pony”, “horse”, and “gelding” made me want to shriek with frustration.  As a matter of fact, I think I did shriek at one point.

Also, most of the book is about Smoky growing up till age four and then being trained to be a cowhorse.  The adventure part of the book started about 2/3 of the way through, something I do not expect in a novel.  Clint, the cowboy who caught and trained him, spent a lot of time and effort in breaking and training Smoky, and we don’t miss a minute of it.   Not. One. Day.

Now, having been snarky, I need to apologize a little, because in the end I liked this book.  I think Mr. James’ intention was to give the reader an understanding of how gently he was trained — not really broken, after all.  I daresay those parts could have been shorter for my tastes, but I don’t think he was writing for me.  He was writing for kids who liked horses.  The treatment Smoky got after he was stolen was outrageous, and later, thoughtless to the point of almost killing him.  The early story of Smoky, and later Clint and Smoky, is a very important base upon which to understand the later horror he was forced to accept.  I never really liked rodeos, now I hate ‘em.

Since you all know this is a spoiler blog, (I’ll keep apologizing) this story has a very satisfactory conclusion.  Clint and Smoky are reunited and — while Clint remains as loving and tender as ever while trying to nurse his favorite horse in the whole world back to health, He can’t really tell if Smoky recognizes him, or if there is even any spark of the young stallion he once knew.  At the end, tired, broken and sad, Smoky comes back to a point where Clint realizes that he does recognize him, and we are left to believe that their retirement together was a quiet one — one which they had both earned.

So what surprised me?  That I liked the book well enough to get past the language and dragging storyline to eventually be sorry to see it end.  Well, mostly sorry, since it’s time to mosey along.  Good story, even for those of us who never wanted to be cowgirls.