Friday, October 25, 2013

Dandelion Cottage by Carroll Watson Rankin

Dandelion Cottage is a delightful little book about four young girls who spend their summer playing in a rundown little house. It was published in 1904 and has some of the same flavor as the Betsy-Tacy books.

Each girl offers her unique contribution to the group. Bettie (12 years old) is the rector's daughter and the only girl in a family of ten. She's motherly and resourceful. Jean (14) is quiet and gentle. Parents consider her a good influence on their children but the author is quick to interject, It doesn't always follow that children like the persons it is considered best for them to like, but in Jean's case both parents and daughters agreed that Jean was not only safe but delightful. Marjory (13) is being raised by a maiden aunt and is polite and grown up for her age. Mabel (11), Dr. Bennett's daughter, is clumsy and loveable. Rankin describes her as, warm-hearted, generous, heedless, hot-tempered, and always blundering, she was something of a trial at home and abroad; yet no one could help loving her, for everybody realized that she would grow up some day into a really fine woman, and that all that was needed in the meantime was considerable patience. Rearing Mabel was not unlike the task of bringing up a St. Bernard puppy.

Within the first few pages you are drawn into the lives of this charming quartet. They have been brought up to be polite and kind, but they are not disgustingly sweet. They have been trained to value babies, hospitality, and homemaking, which may be a deterrent to modern readers (but that was what made the book such a winner for me.)

In addition to the good writing and interesting characters, the book is full of gentle humor: After Mabel makes up a taunt about an obnoxious neighbor she queries, Do you suppose the Milligans are going to get us arrested for just two apples and a little poetry? Later we read that, Mabel did her crying on the excellent principle that, if a thing were worth doing at all, it was worth doing well.

This would be a lovely read-aloud for young girls whose female role models are not from the Disney channel.

I look forward to reading more stories by this author. This title is free on Kindle, and there's an audioversion at

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

11 Lessons that Women Can Learn from Jane Eyre

I'm an unabashed fanatic for all things having do to with Jane Eyre, so I enjoyed this article in the Huffington Post about lessons we can learn from her. I would have left out a couple of the more self-centered ones and would have added the one that influenced me most the first time I read it.  Jane was willing to give up her chance at happiness because she wanted to be true to herself and to God. As a young girl I was astounded by her courage and her convictions and wanted to emulate them.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

The intro to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall said that if it hadn’t been for the Brontë name attached to it, it would long ago have fallen into oblivion. I disagree with that assessment based on the fact that I’ve read many Victorian novels this year and this one is much better than most of them.

The year is 1827 and Gilbert Markham falls in love with Helen Graham, a beautiful, mysterious widow who moves to the neighborhood. But there exists a huge impediment to their happiness and the characters must decide if they will pursue their own desires or submit to God’s will.

I enjoyed this book very much. Unlike the annoying heroes and heroines in Margaret Oliphant’s novels, the main characters in this book learn and grow from their mistakes. The writing is good.( I loved savoring the words “diffidence, salubrious” and “termagant.”) The antagonist in the story is thoroughly despicable, making the book hard to put down. Brontë gives much food for thought on the subjects of love and marriage. And the outcome is satisfying.

BUT, I didn’t love this book. Although I admired Helen for her faith and her sense of duty, she is never as endearing as a Jane Eyre or a Lizzie Bennett.  Literarily speaking, she was “weighed and found wanting.”  Still, after so many duds, I was glad to read a Victorian novel that was a cut above. Tenant is often touted as a feminist novel because Helen is outspoken and unsubmissive, but I disagree based on her behavior toward Arthur Huntingdon later in the book. You’ll have to read it yourself to decide.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Katherine Paterson on the Importance of Literature

From the book of essays The Invisible Child:

And when you close Homer, there are the books of Jane Austen and Joseph Conrad, and great fat volumes of Tolstoy.  There is the Bible, perhaps the most overprescribed and least taken of any. There is Flannery O’Connor and Anne Tyler.  There is William Shakespeare and Jacob Bronowski. There is The Yearling and A Tale of Two Cities.  There is The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows.  There is Ramona the Brave and Where the Wild Things Are.  I have only begun to name what I especially love.  There are countless others - really good books.  Good or even great because they make the right connections. They pull together for us a world that is falling apart.  They are the words that integrate us, stretch us, comfort and heal us. They are the words that mirror the Word of creation, bringing order out of chaos. (238-9)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Free Children's Lit Titles on Kindle

Marcy at Ben and Me has a great list of free Kindle titles for children. There are traditional classics as well as titles by Thornton Burgess and G.A. Henty. Worth a look.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Island Magic by Elizabeth Goudge

Once in a while a book comes along that’s just too scrumptious to put down, one that makes you abandon your regular habit of taking notes while reading so you can get lost in the story. Island Magic is that kind of book.

Rachell and André are the proud parents of five high-spirited children. Their lives, though, are not peaches and cream. The year is 1888 and they live on a run-down farm in the town of St. Pierre, on one of the Channel Islands (between England and the coast of Normandy).  Their sixteen year marriage has been tried by fire as they’ve buried three babies and used up all of Rachell’s inheritance to keep the farm going.  

The name of the farm is “Bon Repos” and when André tells Rachell that they’ll have to abandon it and take their losses, she refuses to believe that the place that they’ve created as a refuge for themselves can be let go so easily.

When a shipwrecked man is brought to the island, Rachell immediately takes him in, sensing that somehow he’ll be the solution to their problems. The man, Ranulph, has spent his whole life refusing to be tied down to anyone or any place yet he finds the du Frocq family hard to resist.  As the story unfolds he finds healing for some of his past hurts and contributes to the welfare of the family in various ways. Goudge throws in a few twists and surprises for good measure.

As always, she succeeds in writing a beautiful story while weaving in themes of mortality, committed love, and the freedom of “tying oneself down” to duty and to family.

In the end, the island magic is not the superstitions of the people (which are highlighted throughout the book), but the way it forces people in such a small space to be a community. “You can’t be an individualist on our Island, she said. . . . With the sea flung round us and holding us so tightly we are thrown into each other’s arms - souls and seasons and birds and flowers, and running water. People understand unity who live on an island. And peace.” (p. 262)

This was Goudge's first novel, published in 1934. A lovely book!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Benefit of Fairy Tales by Juliana H. Ewing

Fairy tales have positive uses in education, which no cramming of facts, and no merely domestic fiction can serve. Like Proverbs and Parables, they deal with first principles under the simplest forms. They convey knowledge of the world, shrewd lessons of virtue and vice, of common sense and sense of humor, of the seemly and the absurd, of pleasure and pain, success and failure, in narratives where they plot moves briskly and dramatically from a beginning to an end. They treat, not of the corner of a nursery or a playground, but of the world at large, and life in perspective; of forces visible and invisible; of Life, Death, and Immortality.

They cultivate the Imagination, that great gift which time and experience lead one more and more to value - handmaid of Faith, of Hope, and, perhaps most of all, of Charity. (p. 6)

from intro to Old-Fashioned Fairy Tales by Juliana Horatio Ewing (Victorian children's author)