Friday, October 12, 2018

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

In spite of the recent hoopla on Wilder's legacy, I still think her books should be required reading for American children. Not only are they living history books, they are rich stories of sacrifical love and perseverance in hardship.

On the Banks of the Plum Creek is 4th in the series and chronicles the family's move from Kansas to Minnesota. Upon arrival, Charles Ingalls trades his wagon and mustang horses with a man who wants to head out West. In exchange he receives a plot of land, two oxen and a dugout house. Charles has big plans to harvest wheat and build a fine house for his wife Caroline, not knowing the many discouraging challenges that will delay these dreams. From the very beginning of the book, when little Laura expresses disappointment at the loss of their horses, Pa responds with the sentiment that runs throughout the narrative: We must do the best we can, Laura, and not grumble. What must be done is best done cheerfully.

I appreciated the simple, non-preachy lessons about the Christian life. When the family is able to go to church for the first time the girls knew from Ma's voice that going to church must be better than going to a party. We find out about the cost of disobedience when we read, Laura had been bad and she knew it. She had broken her promise to Pa. But no one had seen her. No one knew that she had started to go to the swimming-hole. If she did not tell, no one would ever know. But she felt worse and worse inside. The fact that Laura repents of some sins and nourishes others shows the struggles of real human being, (as opposed to an Elsie Dinsmore-type.) There are many instances in the book where family members give up their wants for the good of another. These lessons on unselfishness are one of the main reasons parents need to keep reading these books to their children.

Sometimes the very simple language left my heart longing for more eloquence, but there were enough pretty phrases to keep me going: Grey-green lichens with ruffled edges grew flat on the rock. Wandering ants crossed it. Often a butterfly stopped to rest there. Then Laura watched the velvety wings slowly opening and closing, as if the butterfly breathed with them.

Here's A U.S.A. Today article on why we should not ban Wilder's "racist" books.

Blessings,

Friday, October 5, 2018

The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

If there is any children's classic that teaches (true) tolerance better than The House at Pooh Corner, I don't know what it could be. All the animals in The Hundred Acre Wood have their idiosyncrasies, but each one is accepted and loved. There is the overprotective, but kind, Kanga, timid yet noble piglet, pompous Rabbit, pessimistic Eeyore, and obnoxious Tigger. Most important of all is Pooh, that "bear of very little brain" who has a big heart, which may make him the wisest of all.

As I listened to the audio version, I could easily imagine A.A. Milne telling these stories to his little son. Perhaps each animal personality-type was a copy of a child or grown-up they both knew. In any case, the stories of Christopher Robin's toy menagerie are told quite simply. Christopher isn't central to all of them, but when he appears, he radiates a joy and affection that I found quite contagious. Sprinkled throughout each story are acts of kindness, math jokes (which made me laugh out loud), and little bits of wisdom that are never preachy.

Chapter 9 had this little insight into poetry: Poetry and hums aren't things you get. They are things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you. Chapter 10 has this delightful description of leisure: Christopher Robin says, What I like doing best is nothing. How do you do nothing? asked Pooh. Well it's when people call out to you just as you are going off to do it, "What are you going to do Christopher Robin?" And you say, "Oh, nothing," And then you go and do it. . . It means just going along and listening to all the things you can't hear and not bothering.

In the last chapter the animals hear that Christopher Robin is going away. Maybe it was referring to boarding school. Or maybe it was a reference to growing up. But it's a lovely, poignant moment as Christopher Robin and Pooh bid each other goodbye.

Peter Dennis does a wonderful job narrating this book (although it took me a while to get used to the snorting sound he uses for Piglet.) He handles the voices well and his British accent makes the understated jokes all the funnier. During the same week that I listened to this audio book I was reading Miss Read's Celebrations at Thrush Green. I was amazed at similarities in the two stories. Mrs. Gibbons IS Rabbit and Albert Piggot IS Eeyore. ha!

This children's classic offers as much for adults as it does for children. Maybe more!

Blessings,