November Shelfie: Nature Books

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Our Nature Study collection. Well, most of it. We are constantly referencing the Little Golden Guides (they are beautiful!) and our vinyl Audubon Society field guides (they hold up very well.) I also love how accessible they are on this end table bookshelf.

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 Baby can’t resist the cute little Birds book.

 

 

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Happy Halloween!

 

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We finally did a project from a book I’ve been meaning to use for years,”Richard Scarry’s Best Make-It Book Ever!” It was a lot of fun and I think their masks turned out great.

 

Beyond Early Readers

My two oldest weren’t exactly fluent readers yet but old favorites like Mouse Soup and Frog and Toad were too easy. They needed something interesting and challenging but weren’t ready for most chapter books. Here are some of the early chapter books we found and loved:

Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo

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We loved the Mercy Watson Series. At first I thought they would be too silly but they proved to be just silly enough. The print is nice and large and the chapters are short and engaging. Because it takes a lot of patience to listen to a beginner reader, I like to borrow audio CD’s from the local library so they can read along independently. After we read them together, my girls followed along with the CD’s whenever they liked. These gave them a lot of confidence in their reading abilities and we just loved DiCamillo’s humor.

My Father’s Dragon Series

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These are harder than the Mercy Watson books but My girls ate them up!  The chapters are short and there are great illustrations on nearly every page. All of them are classic adventure stories for children.

Sneakers

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I was sad to discover that Sneakers: Seven Stories About a Cat is out of print, but I was lucky enough to find a copy at a local thrift store! If you ever see a copy out in the wild, pick it up.  It’s worth it!  My children read this one to me on their own. It is a sweet chapter book about a “rapscallion” cat named Sneakers. I’m always impressed with how simple and poetic Brown’s prose is. I also enjoyed Jean Charlot’s illustrations (he also illustrated Brown’s A Child’s Good Night Book ) 

 

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

 

Home Life

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I sit and read Home Life in the hallway. It’s uncomfortable here but it’s the only way my eight year old will fall asleep. Anxiety is keeping her up tonight, probably some stupid, scary story I let her listen to on audio, not knowing how stupid or scary it was. Of course, next time I won’ t let it happen, I will turn it off before it scares her sleepless.

I don’t know if Alice Thomas Ellis would approve of my strategy of getting the little ones to bed, I feel she would somehow be able to just plop them in bed, kiss them sweetly and ignore their cries, with the quiet assurance of a mother of seven. But somehow it seems appropriate to read Home Life in the hallway as my foot falls asleep, straining my eyes trying to get enough light from the bathroom to read. She writes of frozen pipes, burnt dinners, children, sons, daughters, grief, love, literature. . . My foot is numb.

 

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr

More Back To The Classics Challenge

5. A Children’s Classic: By The Shores of Silver LakeBy the Shores of Silver Lake (Little House)

Originally I planned to read the Jungle book  but I ended up reading this one with my children instead. It’s always nice to read children’s literature with children and though this one starts off with a sad tone, Laura’s sister Mary has gone blind, overall it is a happy little book. As always I was inspired by Ma and Pa’s faith and my girls must have been inspired by Laura and Mary for they were extra helpful around the house while reading it.

6. A Classic Crime Mystery: Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet

It’s nice to finally be able to say that I have read some Sherlock Holmes.  The first half is set in England and the second half is set in America; I found this split a little jarring but in the end the mystery is resolved in England. The murder mystery was intriguing and the ever famous characters Watson and Sherlock did not disappoint.

7. A Classic With a Single Word Title: Rebecca

Rebecca (Triangle Books #22, 1943)

My favorite novel I’ve read this year. It is absolute perfection.  Each character is well developed and when dark secrets come to light the characters and their history seem to instantly change before your very eyes. Reading it was like looking through a kaleidoscope, in an instant the glass beads you thought you knew change and become more radiant with each twist. It’s hard to sum up how beautiful, suspenseful and enchanting this book is, a must read.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

 

Back To The Classics Challenge Catch-up

6. Classic Crime: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I did enjoy these short mysteries, which seem to have entered the collective unconscious, as quite a few of the solutions came to me as if recollected while I was reading.  I would love to watch Holmes star in a novel-length work and so have added The Sign of Four and A Study in Scarlet to my long term reading list.

7. Classic with a Single-word Title: Witness by Whittaker Chambers
Witness (Cold War Classics)
None of the books I’ve read for the challenge have disappointed but this one was surely a high point in the year’s reading for me.  What is America?  What is Communism?  Why is “conservative” not enough?  The story of a man, a family, and a friendship, the secrets of the sausage factory of radical politics and conspiracy, an apology for the agrarian, a witness to God’s truth: this masterpiece is not be missed.
8. Classic with a Color in the Title: Scarlet and Black by Stendhal
Strangely serious for a satire, ultimately this is a love story: love “of the sinful kind.”  Famous for his self-conscious hypocrisy, Julien, in his blackest moments, as well as his surprising best, remains thoroughly and recognizably human and lovable.  You realize anew that, in the end, only his Maker can be trusted to judge a man.  And there is buried truth here about the Sacred Heart.
-Mrs. Aldertree

4. A Classic In Translation: Fragments of Sappho

For the Classics in Translation I read Anne Carson’s If Not Winter a Translation of Sappho’s Poems and I highly recommend it.  The Greek is On the left page, in startling red ink while Carson’s translation is on the right page in a calmer black ink. Brackets note the missing lines.  It is a beautiful way to read these fragmented poems; the blank spaces fill you with wonder- what was the complete poem like? There was such intensity in the fragments!

spangled is
the earth with her crowns

Her poems have a sense of pagan piety and duty and yet others were soft, lyrical, feminine with striking imagery:

“Evening you gather back
all that dazzling dawn has put asunder:
you gather a lamb, gather a kid,
gather a child to its mother.” 

To read The Classics is to cross the chasm of time and even language, to experience the permanence of the written word; even an ancient author like Sappho feels close to us when we read. Thousands of years, the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution cannot change the human condition: love, hatred, pain, joy, suffering will always be a part of our lives.

Someone will remember us
I say
even in another time.

-Mrs Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

 

Back to The Classics: Two Years Before The Mast

My parents taught me well to check if a book was abridged before reading it and reading an abridged version of Two Years Before The Mast was one of the few mistakes I made in that department as a young reader.  Even in the ridiculously cut-to-size adaptation I fell for, the story entranced me, took me worlds away from my ordinary life and even my usual imaginary worlds.

That’s one thing this classic sea story is: a full immersion in a lost world, the world of sailing ships.  It is still far from my typical reading fare but so interesting that, once I started, I picked it up every chance I got.  It’s the first hand account by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. of two years he spent as a sailor, to save his scholar’s eyesight.

Those two years involved huge physical risks, narrow escapes, storms at sea.   They involved mundane chores: scrubbing decks, mending and sewing, laundry.  Dana saw the pre-Gold Rush coast of California, visited the missions, observed a wedding there, a funeral.  We see through his eyes sailors’ dances, we hear the sailors’ songs and drawn-out calling of the ropes.  Of particular interest to me was the prized place of letters and books in the lives of men at sea.  Letters and newspapers were read and re-read.  Ships traded books when they met each other.  Dana reads aloud to his fellow sailors and during a particularly tedious time of high vigilance in icy seas recites memorized facts, Scriptures, and poetry to combat the oppressive boredom.

I was struck too by the function of the Sabbath in the largely secular lives of the sailors.  Dana speaks of the powerful boost to morale and renewed hope he gained during his first on-shore day of liberty, how critical such days of rest are to men living with routine deprivations, steady hard work, and, in this case, bad feelings between officers and crew after a traumatic outburst of injustice from the captain.  We get to see as well the customs of Catholics, at sea and in California, from an outsider’s perspective. Catholic ships take liturgical days of rest more seriously.  They arrange their sails for mourning on Good Friday of Holy Week.

I saw analogies between the sailors’ life answering to bells, seeing only a limited group of people for months at a time, and working together without being allowed to speak, to the lives of prisoners, and especially to the monastic life.

Dana’s two years off from school became a defining event in his life.  It is for those two years that interrupted his projected career and the book he wrote about them that we remember him today.  His book preserves for our national memory scenes and people and an entire way of life that would otherwise be forgotten.  It is worthy of its classic status.

 

Mrs. Aldertree

3. Woman Author: Rumer Godden’s Battle Villa Fiorita

Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden My first Rumer Godden. A revelation. This book is staggeringly beautiful and true-- in its joy and deep melancholy.

One of  Godden’s great strengths is she doesn’t get in the way of a good story. Whenever I read a book by her I feel thrown into another world from the first page. The Battle of Villa Fiorita was no exception; I was transported to Italy. Finding myself in the middle of high drama was confusing at first. It was difficult to keep track of the characters and what was happening, but by chapter three (or four) I was well acquainted with the characters and a lot of the backstory. The result of this immersion was a fascinating read, a plot that moved forward and an interesting development of characters.

Villa Fiorita is a story about marriage and children, and yet it begins with divorce. Fanny has left her husband and their three children to be with her lover, Rob. The couple have fled to the Villa to begin their new life together. The Novel begins with two of Fanny’s children: Hugh (14) and Caddie (12), describing the Villa Fiorita.  I always find Godden’s portrayal of children to be refreshing and surprising. Godden gives them a certain amount of autonomy without making them simply little adults. Hugh and Caddie have sold their possessions, plotted their escape and  traveled to Italy on their own to fetch their mother. They are waging war against the couple. Later on, Pia, Rob’s daughter from his late wife, joins the battle with a fierce child-like independence.

We keenly feel Hugh’s and Caddie’s intrusion as they observe and are shocked by the intimate details of  their mother’s and her lover’s daily living habits. Godden is able to focus on the small details to show the depth of the problem of infidelity: their mother’s scarf, his driving gloves, his cigarettes by their bedside. Pia (a Catholic) is also appalled by the adult’s behavior. Her arrival ushers in ancient codes and the tension between Protestantism and Catholicism. In the novel children are at once the blessing and the safeguard of marriage.

The story is also a coming of age story for Hugh, Caddie and Pia. They are all faced with a loss of innocence; they must confront their own desires, their own sexuality. Divorce has prematurely thrown them into the adult world.

Godden successfully shows the absurdity of divorce while remaining sympathetic to the entangled characters. Regardless of Fanny’s wishes for remarriage, the marriage bond cannot be broken by mere desires; she knows that she and Rob are play acting.

This is not simply a cautionary tale, it is more a study than a lesson. Much like Henry James’ The Bostionans, Godden’s The Battle of Villa Fiorita is exploring  the most salient and peculiar point in it’s society, in this case – divorce.

Towards the end of the novel we know that her marriage will never be the same, even if reconciliation takes place; so much harm has already been done and it is the children who suffer and who heal. As I read on and the pages diminished I began to think that reaching a satisfying ending would be impossible, but as one review stated so perfectly: “The ending is unimaginable until it arrives, and then appears inevitable. Splendid.”

Another Godden novel to treasure and share.

 

4. Children’s Classic: The Wind in The Willows

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Indulge your inner child and read that classic that you somehow missed years ago.”An appealing invitation.  As I suggested previously, it wasn’t that I “somehow missed” The Wind in the Willows, it was that I deliberately avoided it.  I loved the title; I didn’t like the movie.  I was very picky about my talking animal stories (I pretty much liked only Narnia books in that category).  So, though the movie’s theme, “soon, soon you will forget” haunted me with a sweet painfulness, I didn’t read the book.

Would I have liked The Wind in the Willows, if I had read it some thirty years ago? Mr. Toad’s plot with its ups and downs, with its constant sense of threat, and with his mercurial manipulative character would doubtless have made me nervous. I know because it made me nervous even as an adult and there were a few times I skimmed quickly to make sure nothing terrible was about to happen before I could relax and read every word. The constant amused affection with which the author follows the miscreant may have been lost on the younger me.

I’m sure though I would have loved the lyrical chapters starring Rat and Mole. This is where the sehnsucht and the numinous music that I heard in the book’s title come in. There is even a gnostic/pagan/crypto-Christian religious element to be found here, a spiritual dimension akin to the Magic of Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden.

The Wind in the Willows sits in a friendly way next to C. S. Lewis’s Narnia (and, as I saw another blogger mention, to Tolkien). From the descriptions of cozy meals shared by friends and snug underground houses to the aching quality of Joy in its pages, it was as if a band Talking Beasts from Narnian realms had crossed the border into the human world. It was perfect to read curled up on a couch, while the rains and winds, the sleet and snow, of mid-April howled around our house. So, all told, my inner child was satisfied with this one.

 

-Mrs. Aldertree