Laudable Linkage


Here are noteworthy reads discovered this last week:

Reaching for the Light. A mom’s struggle to spend time with the Lord and four kids.

Why I Took My Six-year-old Son on an Overnight Trip. Thoughts on Scripture’s instruction, “Son, give me your heart.”

The Hardest Part of Mothering.

Youth Group or Frat House? HT to Out of the Ordinary. Wisdom about youth group activities that humiliate.

In Defense of Preachy Children’s Books. HT to Story Warren. “Kids want to be entertained and delighted. The first thing you can do is erase the words moral, teach, message, and lesson out of your vocabulary…keep authoritative figures, like parents, teachers, or older siblings, in the background. Lastly, never let the adults in the story tell what the main character should do. Remember, it is a sin to preach in fiction.” The author counters this advice with examples from beloved children’s classics, and I agree with her. There was something in me that rose up to meet and welcome moral instruction in stories. It can be overdone, of course. And there are times to let readers realize what the story is about rather than telling them directly. But, “Rather than detracting or distracting from the story, were these passages giving me the names of the lovely ideals I sensed in the characters I admired? Were they revealing to me an eternal, universal world of Courage, Sacrifice, Hope, Joy, Love that, unlike the long-ago and fairytale story-lands I longed to enter, was near at hand for me to dwell in? Could this be why didacticism, properly woven into story, does not ruin but elevates it?”

100 Summer Crafts and Activities for Kids, HT to Story Warren.

And a thought for the day, HT to Jody Hedlund re writing, but applicable to many areas:


Book Review: Where the Red Fern Grows

Red FernI had seen the 1974 film version of Where the Red Fern Grows when my two older boys were elementary-school age, some 25 or so years ago. I enjoyed the film, but I don’t remember if I knew then it was based on a book. I wish we had read it back then! But I was glad to finally listen to it via audiobook this month.

The book begins with an adult Billy Coleman leaving work and coming upon a dogfight. When he sees the dog being attacked is a hound like one he used to have, he rescues it, takes it home, feeds it, and lets it rest, then releases it. That stirs up memories of the dogs he used to have.

Billy had grown up in a poor family in the Ozarks. There was nothing he wanted more than a dog to go coon hunting with – but not just any dog. He wanted hounds. His parents could have gotten him a mongrel dog, but they could not afford a special breed, no matter how much Billy pleaded.

I suppose there’s a time in practically every young boy’s life when he’s affected by that wonderful disease of puppy love. I don’t mean the kind a boy has for the pretty little girl that lives down the road. I mean the real kind, the kind that has four small feet and a wiggly tail, and sharp little teeth that can gnaw on a boy’s finger; the kind a boy can romp and play with, even eat and sleep with.

One day Billy found a magazine some hunters had left behind at their campground and found an ad for two Redbone Coonhounds for $50. Without telling anyone, he performed odd jobs, dug up and sold worms for bait, picked and sold blackberries, and did anything he could think of to earn money. It took him two years, and when he finally showed his savings to his grandfather and told him what they were for, his grandpa helped him order the dogs. But the dogs would be shipped to a town more than a day’s journey away. Billy took off on foot alone to pick up his dogs and bring them back, helped by a kindly station master.

The dogs were a brother and sister. Billy named the brother, who was strong and quick to react, Old Dan. The thoughtful, intelligent girl dog was named Little Ann.

Billy went to work training his dogs to hunt coons, selling coon hides and giving the money to his father, and having many adventures with his dogs. Tragedy struck a couple of times, the second occurrence shaking Billy’s faith.

This is a wonderful “boy and his dogs” and coming of age story, even if readers are not all that interested in hunting. Strong themes of loyalty, perseverance, family, and faith undergird the novel. There are a couple of gruesome parts (one boy has a hunting accident with an ax, a dog in a fight with a mountain lion is severely injured), and the author tells them realistically but not gratuitously. The ending is sad but ultimately hopeful.

People have been trying to understand dogs ever since the beginning of time. One never knows what they’ll do. You can read every day where a dog saved the life of a drowning child, or lay down his life for his master. Some people call this loyalty. I don’t. I may be wrong, but I call it love-the deepest kind of love.

Wikipedia shares the interesting background story of how Wilson Rawls wrote the story, destroyed his manuscript, then wrote it again at his wife’s urging. I also enjoyed reading 12 Things You Might Not Know About Where the Red Fern Grows. Though Rawls wrote for children, his first publisher oddly marketed the book to adults. Sales were slow until Rawls spoke at a conference for teachers and librarians who took the samples of his book back to their schools and libraries, where children loved it.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by Anthony Heald. I didn’t know until just now that there was a 2003 remake of the movie. Some day I would like to see it.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2018 Winner

Congratulations to Rebekah for winning the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge this year! Thanks to all of those who participated. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! I already have plans for next year!

Laudable Linkage


Here are recent reads that have captivated my attention:

Love Like Birch Trees.

How to Sit at the Table With Those Who Hurt and Offend You, HT to Linda. “Extending love to someone who offended you does not mean you’re accepting such treatment – it means you realize you cannot thrive in a place of anger and resentment.”

What to Say Instead of “I Know How You Feel” to Someone Who Is Struggling, HT to Linda. Sharing our similar experience in an effort to let someone know they’re not alone often just draws attention to ourselves and makes the other person feel unheard. This gives a helpful distinctive.

When Our Heroes Don’t Live Up to Their Theology, HT to Challies. How do we think about spiritual giants who were blind to the wrongness of slavery.

Helping Your Daughter by Being Her Emotional Coach, HT to Story Warren.

You Can’t Have Ethics Without Stories, HT to Story Warren.. “We often forget what the Bible actually is. If not a dictionary or an encyclopedia, what is it? The Bible is, among other things, he writes, ‘a faith-forming narrative.’”

Why Children’s Books Should be a Little Sad, HT to Story Warren.

How DNA Testing Botched My Family’s Heritage, and Probably Yours, too, HT to Challies.

And finally, this dog has a dedicated owner:

Happy Saturday!

(Links do not imply complete endorsement of sites or authors.)

Book Review: The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden.

Most of the time we tell children isolated Bible stories. Jonah and the big fish. Daniel in the lion’s den. The three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace. David and Goliath. Stories capture attention and imagination, and they’re probably also easier to convey to a child than, say, the outline of the book of Romans. The danger with knowing just individual stories, however, is that we miss the big picture, the way they fit into the overarching story of the Bible.

Biggest StoryTo try to rectify that, Kevin De Young wrote a book called The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden. “Snake Crusher” comes from Genesis 3:15, where part of God’s judgment on the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve is that some day their offspring would bruise the serpent’s head, the first foretelling of Christ’s coming. Designed for 5-11-year-olds, the book is 129 pages and ten chapters, yet most of the pages contain only one to a few sentences, and some pages are entirely illustration.

The story begins with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, their perfect, beautiful life, and their temptation and fall. It progresses quickly through Noah, the beginning and growth of the sons of Israel, the kings, the prophets, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Major themes of the Bible are emphasized throughout the stories: People continually sin and sin requires judgment. Though people reject God and His ways, He still loves them and seeks them. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about a coming righteous Deliverer. He lived the perfect live we could not and gave Himself for our sins so we could finally be reconciled to God.

Re the time of Noah:

Things got so bad so fast that God decided to start over. The people on the earth were terribly wicked in their hearts, all the time, every day, nonstop.

They didn’t deserve to enjoy God’s world anymore.

So God took it from them.

Or, more exactly, he took them from it.

It just didn’t seem right that the One destined to crush the Serpent would be crushed himself. So when Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, died on the cross that Friday afternoon, it seemed a shocking evil beyond belief.

And it was. The worst thing that’s ever happened in the world.

But it was also the best thing that’s ever happened in the world. Just as we would expect from God. And just as God planned it.

We break promises, so God keeps his.

We run from God, he comes to us.

We suffer for sin, so the Savior suffers for us.

The book does a wonderful job accomplishing what it set out to do. The Bible’s overall story is told simply and clearly, with the individual stories taking their place within the “big” story. This is an excellent resource for children, especially for parents to share with children.

The only negative for me is the illustrations. There’s nothing wrong with them, they’re not bad at all – they’re just not to my own tastes. These images from the book are from Amazon:

Snake crusher 1

Snake crusher 2

Snake crusher 3

I like more realistic than stylistic illustrations. Plus a lot of it just seems too busy for me. Susan, from whom I won the book in a drawing some time ago (thank you, Susan! I’m sorry it took me so long to get to it!) described them as almost Ukrainian. Nothing wrong with that – it’s just a matter of taste. Other people seem to love it, according to the reviews, and perhaps a child might enjoy looking at some of the “busier” pages and seeing all the elements.

The book is a high quality hardback with a ribbon bookmark. The story itself is excellent. Highly recommended.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Laudable Linkage

Here are some noteworthy reads discovered in the last week or so:

The Christian Life Isn’t Meant to Be Effortless. Very helpful, especially dealing with a couple of ways of looking at Christian life that I thought were a little off but I couldn’t quite articulate why.

When God Gives Us Too Much to Handle.

Love and Entitlement. “But, you’re getting it all wrong, girls. Love isn’t a laundry list of behavior requirements.”

Member of the Family. Interesting thoughts about the difference between books where a child character feels like he is contributing to the family vs. the ones popular with the “misfit/outcast archetype in children’s literature. There is a strong trend in fiction for young people that consists of jettisoning of one’s God-given family and cobbling together a new one on a road trip.” I agree we need more of the former.

Expositional Imposters. Though this is written to preachers, I think the points he makes are good for general Bible study as well. We can pull the wrong lesson from a passage if we’re not reading it carefully.

I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical, HT to Ann. Nothing wrong with a lot of what is mentioned, but I agree every day, every lunch, etc. doesn’t need to be Pinterest-worthy, and there’s a lot of magic for childhood in everyday life.

Your Middle-Aged Brain Is Not on the Decline, HT to Janet. That’s encouraging!

Bringing the Prairie to the Hood. “Black people (at least the ones I know) do not watch Little House on the Prairie.…So how did Little House on the Prairie mosey its way into my Southeast D.C. home?”

And to end with a smile:


spiderHappy Saturday!

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2016 Wrap-Up

It’s the last day of February and so it is time to wrap up our Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge. If you’ve read anything by, about, or related to Laura this month, please share it with us in the comments. You can share a link back to your book reviews, or if you’ve written a wrap-up post, you can link back to that (the latter might be preferable if you’ve written more than one review — the WordPress spam filter tends to send comments with more than one link to the spam folder. But I’ll try to keep a watch out for them.) If you don’t have a blog, just share in the comments what you read and your thoughts about it. We’d also love to hear if you’ve done any “Little House” related activities.

I like to have some sort of drawing to offer a prize concluding the challenge, and as I thought about it this year, I decided to offer one winner the choice of:

The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker


Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

If neither of those suits you, I can substitute a similarly-priced Laura book of your choice. To be eligible, leave a comment on this post by Friday telling us what you read for this challenge. I’ll choose a name through a week from today to give everyone time to get their last books and posts finished.

Personally, I read and reviewed Little Town on the Prairie here. I am still working on Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pamela Smith Hill.

Thanks for participating! I hope you enjoyed your time “on the prairie” this month. It always leaves me with renewed admiration for our forebears and renewed thankfulness that I live in the times I do.

The drawing is closed: the winner is Melanie!

Book Review: Little Town on the Prairie

Little TownLittle Town on the Prairie is the seventh book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series and takes place just after The Long Winter. Laura is 14 as the book opens. Her family is still working the claim her Pa has, but they move into town for the winter in case it’s as bad as the last one, both to be closer to what they need and because the claim isn’t sturdy enough to stay warm the whole winter yet.

As usual, the book tells about the joys and everyday experiences and chores of both of summer on the claim and then winter in the town.

One main focus of the family in this story is trying to earn money to send Mary to a college for the blind. Laura gets a temporary job sewing shirts for a seamstress in town (and sees interactions of a family very different from her own), but her main goal is to qualify for a teaching certificate at age 16, and then teach to earn money for Mary’s college, even though teaching doesn’t sound like a goal she would pursue otherwise.

Laura’s nemesis from an earlier book, Nellie Oleson, is back in this one. Though Nellie’s family is in reduced circumstances, she’s still the proud, scheming person she always was.

In town much of Laura’s time is spent at school. It doesn’t seem like there was a winter or Christmas break as we know them now – they went to school all through winter as long as the weather was good, except for the day of a holiday. One teacher Laura’s school had was Almanzo’s sister, who doesn’t have much control of the class, and the misbehavior escalates to extremes until the school board steps in. Laura doesn’t misbehave herself, but she feels guilty at smiling at (and thereby encouraging) some of the boys after she has a couple of negative interactions with Miss Wilder .

One difference in this book from the others is that the Ingalls’ family is seeming to settle down rather than moving from place to place. One highlight of the winter, when people couldn’t work outdoors, was the “Literaries” – evenings once a week where the townsfolk get together and do something for entertainment. One night it was a town-wide spelling bee, once it was people playing various musical instruments. One that is offensive to modern sensibilities is men (including Pa)  dressing in blackface paint and putting on a minstrel-type show.

One difference between the way they lived then and we live now (besides the obvious differences in technologies and living conditions, etc.) is the expectations of how people should act. For instance, after Pa’s visit with the school board to Laura’s school, at home Laura waits for him to talk to her about it, because”It was not her place to speak of what had happened, until he did” (p. 182). When Mary leaves for college, and little Grace starts crying, Laura hushes her with shame that such a big girl is crying. When the family walks into the church-wide Thanksgiving celebration, “Even Pa and Ma almost halted, though they were too grown-up to show surprise. A grown-up person must never let feelings be shown by voice or manner” (p. 228).

I’ve mentioned before that even when I am reading a book that is not necessarily written from a Christian viewpoint, I still read it with Christian eyes and try to discern where the people are coming from spiritually. I’ve never been quite able to figure that out with the Ingalls family. There was an era in our history when people were what we’d call God-fearing in the sense that they believed there was a God, that the Bible was His Word, that He punished or blessed people, that there was a heaven and hell, etc., yet weren’t truly believing on Christ as Savior (“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” James 2:19). There are many Scriptural references and applications in the books. For instance, during the debacle at Laura’s school, she outwardly is the model student, but “she did not think then of the Bible verse that speaks of the cup and the platter that were clean only on the outside, but the truth is that she was like that cup and platter” (p. 167) because she resented, even hated Miss Wilder for her mistreatment of Laura’s sister, Carrie. She has a discussion with Mary about always feeling that Mary was good, but Mary says she wasn’t, confessing that even when she was trying to be as a child, much of the time it was from the motives of vanity and pride. She reminds Laura that the Bible says we’re “desperately wicked and inclined to evil” (p. 12) and says they shouldn’t think so much about whether they are good or bad, but instead should focus on “being sure of the goodness of God” (p. 13). Yet Laura admits to not listening at church beyond the text, since that’s the only thing Pa quizzes them on at home, and later on, when they attend a church revival, though what the preacher says is sound, it’s done in such a fiery way that it was “dark and frightening” to Laura. Her whole family confesses to preferring Rev. Alden’s more quiet style. I do get that. I prefer “quieter” preachers who speak in conversational tones than “ranting and raving” ones. But they only talk about the style rather than the substance of his message, so it’s not clear what they think of it. Laura does her best to act like she’s supposed to except against Nellie Oleson and Miss Wilder. I’m hoping The Pioneer Girl might shed more light on Laura’s personal beliefs.

This book also introduces Almanzo Wilder’s beginning interest in her when he asks to walk her home after some of the events in town. At first Laura is only confused – he’s 23, a homesteader, and her father’s friend. She doesn’t seem to be thinking romantically towards anyone yet. But she accepts his offers and gradually is able to talk normally with him. He shares here how he got his unusual name, something I had forgotten. I had thought this book went into their courtship and up to their engagement, but I guess that’s in the next book.

I don’t remember quite as much from these later books as I do from the earlier ones – maybe I read the earlier ones more often as a child. But I enjoyed this foray into the prairie again. It was nice to see the family settling down, the community growing, and Laura and her sisters maturing.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

A Few Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Rebekah at bekahcubed chose Grimm’s Fairy Tales for Carrie‘s Reading to Know Classics Book Club for November – as many of them as one wanted and had time to read. I knew I would not be able to read a whole volume, but I wanted to read some of the more well-known ones to see how they compared.

GrimmI knew I would get to more of them via audiobook than regular book, and the edition I had chosen, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition, was translated and edited by Jack Zipes in 2014. His introduction, though a bit wordy and repetitive, was quite interesting. I had not known that German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm had not actually traveled around the country collecting tales, as is commonly thought. They originally studied law, but one professor, Friedrich Carl von Savigny, believed in an interdisciplinary approach in that history, language, literature, law, religion, etc., all influenced each other. Thus “the brothers eventually came to believe that language rather than law was the ultimate bond that united the German people.”

I also had not known that the brothers themselves revised the stories a great deal from their first edition (in 1812) to the seventh (in 1857). The original stories had details that were thought unsuitable for children (gruesomeness in some, “adult” details in others like Rapunzel getting pregnant by the visiting prince). Later editions also excluded some stories from other countries and added other stories that the Grimms had collected in the meantime. I can’t fault the Grimms for continually revising their work: I tend to tweak things I have written nearly every time I look at them. This and the fact that there were varying versions of the tales even in their day makes me a lot more forgiving of the modern twists on them. In his introduction, Zipes includes the first several paragraphs of a couple of stories from a few different editions to note the changes. I did like hearing how some of the stories originated even while feeling later versions were probably better.

“Florid descriptions, smooth transitions, and explanations are characteristic of most of the tales in the 1857 edition.” This version is a translation of the 1812 and 1815 editions. I only listened to a few stories from the first, and they are sparse, mostly unembellished, and simply told.

Zipes translated the originals into “succinct American English.” While this makes them easily understood, I do miss the “fairy tale style” of the wording (for instance, the prince gives Cinderella her missing slipper and says merely, “Try it on. If it fits, you’ll become my wife.”) I don’t know how much of the lack of that is due to his translation or to the simplicity of the originals: perhaps that’s a product of later editions. There are also a lot of exclamations taking God’s name in vain: again, I don’t know if this is Zipe’s doing or if there are equivalent expressions in the originals.

I did get to listen to quite a few more tales than I had thought I would. Here are a few thoughts on the ones I read:

“The Frog King”: A beautiful princess plays with her favorite thing, a golden ball, until it drops into some water. She’s distraught until a frog comes up out of the water and promises to fetch the ball for her if she’ll take him to be her companion, letting him eat from her plate, drink from her cup, and sleep in her bed. She agrees, but in her excitement over getting her ball back, runs off to the castle, forgetting about the frog. He comes to the castle to claim her promise, which she resists until her father makes her keep her word. When she has had enough and throws the frog against her bedroom wall in disgust, he turns into a prince, and they marry and live happily ever after. There’s no “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a handsome prince” here, not even true love’s kiss transforming the frog. In fact, if I were the prince, I would have thanked the princess after the transformation and moved on. 🙂

“The Companionship of the Cat and Mouse.”: A cat and mouse lived together and stored some of their food under the altar in the church. Three times the cat leaves under false pretenses and eats some of the stored food until it’s gone. When the mouse discovers this, the cat eats the mouse. Zipes’ introductions says that many of the tales champion the underdog, but in this case the undermouse got the raw end of the deal.

“The Virgin Mary’s Child”: The Virgin Mary helps out a poor couple by taking their 3 year old daughter to care for her in heaven. Everything goes well until the girl grows, and Mary has to leave for a while. The girl is told not to go into a certain room, but she does. Mary knows she has disobeyed, but the girl won’t confess, so Mary makes her leave heaven and makes her mute. She’s discovered by a king, who marries her. When she has a child, Mary comes back and gives the girl – or young woman now – a chance to come clean. She doesn’t, so Mary takes her baby away. Some therefore think she’s an ogress who has eaten her own child – especially when this happens two more times. The third time, the woman is sentenced to die burned at the stake. She finally wants to confess to Mary that she lied and disobeyed, and then Mary restores her speech and her children.

“Rapunzel”: begins with a husband and wife wishing for years for a child. When the wife finally gets pregnant, she craves the rapunzel (a type of lettuce) in the neighboring garden. The husband gets some for her, but the wife’s craving increases. When he sneaks into the garden a second time, he finds the fairy (in later versions a sorceress) who owns the garden, and who is very angry over his theft. He explains why he is taking it, and the fairy says he can take all he wants as long as they give the baby to her when it is born. She takes the baby, and when the baby grown into a young woman, she locks her away in a tower with no doors. The fairy gets in and out by asking Rapunzel to let down her long hair, and then the fairy uses it to climb up. A prince happens by and hears Rapunzel singing, and is so taken with her voice that he wants to see her. He can’t find a way in, but he observes what the fairy says when she comes, and the next night when the fairy is gone, he calls up to Rapunzel to let down her hair. Rapunzel is frightened by him at first, but in a short time falls in love. They see each other every night. Finally Rapunzel asks the fairy why her clothes are getting so tight. The fairy perceives Rapunzel is pregnant (I don’t suppose you can fault Rapunzel if she has been locked away in a tower since she was 12. But the prince should’ve known better!) The fairy is so angry, she cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and banishes her. The fairy ties Rapunzel’s hair to a hook, and when the prince comes up, he finds the fairy instead. He is so distressed he throws himself out of the tower, and loses sight in both eyes. Eventually Rapunzel gives birth to twins in a desolate land. The prince, in his wanderings, hears her singing and finds her. Two of her tears fall on his eyes, and they are healed.

“Hansel and Gretal” are children of a poor woodcutter and his wife. There is not enough food, so the mother instructs her husband to take the children out into the woods and leave them. The children overhear, so Hansel takes some pebbles and drops them along the trail. When their parents leave them, the moon shines on the pebbles and they find their way back home. But the mother insists the father take them even deeper into the forest. Hansel is unable to get more pebbles, so this time he drops bread crumbs to mark the trail. But the birds eat the crumbs. Hansel and Gretel are distressed and try to get home for a couple of days, when they find a house made of bread “with cake for a roof and pure sugar for windows.” When the old woman inside discovers them, she feeds them well, but locks Hansel away to fatten him up to eat him. She was actually a witch who had built the house on purpose to lure children. She makes Gretel act as servant for several days, until she asks Gretel to check something in the oven, planning to shut her in. Gretel prays for help, feigns ignorance, and asks the witch to show her what she means, and when the witch is in the oven, Gretel shuts her in and locks the door. She rescues Hansel, they fill their pockets with the witch’s jewels, and go back home, where they are able to provide for their father. The evil mother had died.

“Herr Fix-It-Up” and and “The White Snake” have different settings but are similar in that the main characters help various animals who then help them on their quest to perform three tasks to win a princess.

“The Fisherman and His Wife”: The fisherman one day catches a talking flounder who claims to be an enchanted prince. The fish asks the man to spare him, which he does. When the fisherman tells his wife what happened, she says he should have wished for something in return. She sends him back to ask for a hut, which the flounder grants. The wife is content – for a week, when she sends her husband back to ask for a castle. He does, reluctantly, and the fish grants it. But the wife is still discontent. She sends him back to ask the fish to make her king, then emperor, and then pope. The fish grants each request until the wife admire a sunrise and decides she wants to be like God. When the fisherman reluctantly once again asks the fish, the fish sends them back to their original shack, where they are said to be living to this day.

“Cinderella” was pretty much as I had heard it, except the step-sisters were beautiful and were the main problem rather than the step-mother. There were three balls rather than one; no sewing mice but there were helpful pigeons; no fairy godmother, but a magic tree planted on Cinderella’s mother’s grave which she could wish on; no pumpkins turning into coaches; golden rather than glass slippers. Cinderella has to leave before midnight each night, and on the third night the prince pours pitch on the walkway so she can’t get away so fast (seems like that would be a problem for the other guests…). The step-mother did advise her daughters to cut off part of their feet to fit into the golden slipper, which they did, and almost fooled the prince, until the pigeons pointed out their bleeding feet. (This prince seems a little dim…) Finally he gets the shoe on the right foot and then finally recognizes Cinderella, the pigeons confirm she’s the one, and they live happily ever after.

“Little Red Cap” was exactly same as “Little Red Riding Hood.” The only thing different from the version I knew was that, after the fiasco with the wolf and being rescued by the huntsman, a second wolf attempts to distract Red, but she has learned her lesson and resists this time, and she and her grandmother trick the wolf into falling into a trough of water where it drowns.

“Death and the Goose Boy”: The goose boy is tired and wants to leave the world, and when he meets Death, he asks him to take him across the river out of the world. But Death can’t right them because he is on another mission. When he finishes that, he asks the goose boy if he still wants to go. He does. His geese turn into sheep, and he “heard that the shepherds of places like that become kings.” “The arch-shepherds, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” give him a crown and take him to the castle of shepherds.

“Briar Rose” is the story of Sleeping Beauty and was pretty much as I remembered hearing it, though different than the Disney version.

“Little Snow White” was also close to the version I knew except it was her mother, not a step-mother, who was jealous of her beauty and had the magic mirror. She was changed to a step-mother in later versions. She also made three attempts on Snow’s life, the last one being the magic apple. In the end she was punished by being made to dance with burning shoes until she died.

“Rumpelstiltskin” was pretty much the story I knew. It’s never explained why the girl’s father tells the king his daughter can spin straw into gold: he is only mentioned in the beginning.

I hadn’t thought I would get to this many, but they are fairly short in this volume. I did enjoy both the familiar and unfamiliar ones. Now that I have started, I would love to hear or read the rest some time. But I don’t think that they are best enjoyed one right after another for several stories in a row, for me, anyway. I tended to lose details that way. Now that I have the audiobook, though, I can listen to 2 or 3 at a time in-between other books. I don’t know if I will ever listen to the whole thing, but there are several more stories I’d like to explore. I think they’d best be enjoyed either as individual children’s books with nice illustrations or as an illustrated collection of several of them. But I do think this original version is good for reference and for seeing how they started – at least the original written versions. Many of the stories themselves had been told orally for hundreds of years, so who knows what the actual originals were. But we’re indebted to the Grimms for writing them down for us.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)


Book Review: The Yearling

YearlingThe Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is the story of twelve year old Jody Baxter, who lives with his family in a backwoods area of Florida known as “the scrub” in the years after the Civil War. His parents, Ezra (nicknamed Penny because of his small stature) and Ory, have previously lost six children in infancy. This and the fact that he had a hard upbringing himself makes Penny want to let Jody be a child for as long as he can and makes him even more dear. But Ory, though not totally lacking in affection, is somewhat detached from Jody, and has hardened somewhat after all the losses and hardscrabble existence. She says, “Seems like bein’ hard is the only way I kin stand it.”

Though “friendliness and mutual help in time of trouble” was more available in towns, Penny wanted the peace of the scrub:

He had perhaps been bruised too often. The peace of the vast aloof scrub had drawn him with the beneficence of its silence. Something in him was raw and tender. The touch of men was hurtful upon it, but the touch of the pines was healing. Making a living came harder there, distances were troublesome in the buying of supplies and the marketing of crops. But the clearing was peculiarly his own. The wild animals seemed less predatory to him than people he had known. The forays of bear and wolf and wild-cat and panther on stock were understandable, which was more than he could say of human cruelties.

Jody begins as a good-hearted but immature boy, off rambling in the forest when he should be hoeing the corn. He wants a pet, but his Ma is against it: it’s hard enough to keep the family fed. Although Penny wants Jody to be carefree as long as possible, he takes Jody on various forays like hunting, trading, planting, etc., teaching him and imparting wisdom along the way. When Penny wants to take Jody trading with their nearest neighbors (four miles away), the rowdy Forresters, he and Ma argue:

“Jody has got to mix with men and learn the ways o’ men,” Penny said.

“The Forresters’ is a fine place to begin. Do he learn from them, he’ll learn to have a heart as black as midnight.”

“He might learn from them, not to.”

The Baxters face perils from bears, particularly a smart, sneaky one nicknamed Ol’ Slewfoot because he’s missing a toe, panthers, wolves, catastrophic weather, and snakes, but there are also visits with friends and Christmas parties and fun times as well.

At one point when a doe is killed during an emergency, Jody discovers she had a fawn. When he pleads with Penny to take it home since they were responsible for its mother’s death, Penny relents. Jody and the fawn, named Flag by a friend, become fast friends. But of course, as Flag gets older, he becomes harder to handle and a menace to the family’s crops.

The title would suggest the story is about the fawn, as it starts becoming a problem when it becomes a yearling. But several times in the book Jody is called a yearling, and the book is something of a coming of age story. Though the main storyline is about his transformation from a boy to a responsible youth, there are so many facets to the book: Penny’s understanding of and relationship with Jody, his wisdom and decency, how different people respond to the trials of life, how people existed in such a place and time. There is a wealth of knowledge about animal ways and how all their parts were used (who knew panther oil was good for rheumatism?)

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings won a Pulitzer prize in 1939 for this book, deservedly so, and it’s the work she is most known for. As I was reading I mused that she had to be from this area, because her knowledge flowed so naturally it couldn’t have come just from research into it, and I was was delighted to find I was right: I found this interesting article about the area where Rawlings lived  in central Florida and where the movie based on the book was filmed. According to Wikipedia, her editor rejected several things she sent him and told her to “write about what she knew from her own life”; that advice led to The Yearling.

It has to be masterful writing that can include accented dialogue along with beautiful prose, almost poetic in places. Here are a few favorite spots:

He edged closer to his father’s bones and sinews. Penny slipped an arm around him and he lay close against the lank thigh. His father was the core of safety. His father swam the swift creek to fetch back his wounded dog. The clearing was safe, and his father fought for it, and for his own. A sense of snugness came over him and he dropped asleep (Chapter 4).

She clasped two fingers over her nose in a gesture of malodorous disgust (Chapter 11).

[After Jody threw a potato at the girl above], “Well, son, you cain’t go thru life chunkin’ things at all the ugly women you meet” (Chapter 11).

Grandma Hutto’s flower garden was a bright patchwork quilt thrown down inside the pickets (Chapter 11).

She drew gallantry from men as the sun drew water. Her pertness enchanted them. Young men went away from her with a feeling of bravado. Old men were enslaved by her silver curls. Something about her was forever female and made all men virile (Chapter 11).

A tenderness filled Jody that was half pain, half sweetness. In his agony, his father was concerned for him (Chapter 14).

At the house, Ma Baxter received the news stolidly. She had shed her tears and wailed her laments when the crops were ruined. As the going of too many of her children had wrung her dry of feeling, now the passing of the game was only another unprotested incident (Chapter 21).

“You got to learn takin’ keer o’ rations comes first of all–first after gittin’ ’em” (Chapter 22).

Ma Baxter rocked complacently. They were all pleased whenever she made a joke. Her good nature made the same difference in the house as the hearth-fire had made in the chill of the evening (Chapter 23).

Jody chewed on his licorice stick. The rich black juice filled his mouth and the talk filled another hunger, back of his palate, that was seldom satisfied (Chapter 25).

“You’ve seed how things goes in the world o’ men. You’ve knowed men to be low-down and mean. You’ve seed ol’ Death at his tricks. You’ve messed around with ol’ Starvation. Ever’ man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. ‘Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but ’tain’t easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin. I’ve been uneasy all my life….I’ve wanted life to be easy for you. Easier’n ’twas for me. A man’s heart aches, seein’ his young uns face the world. Knowin’ they got to git their guts tore out, the way his was tore. I wanted to spare you, long as I could. I wanted you to frolic with your yearlin’. I knowed the lonesomeness he eased for you. But ever’ man’s lonesome. What’s he to do then? What’s he to do when he gits knocked down? Why, take it for his share and go on” (Chapter 33).

I think that last quote is one that resonated with me the most. We want to shield our children from hard things: even just telling them “No” when they’re toddlers can break our hearts. But we can’t. Hard times will come, and we hope that they’ll be resilient and keep hope and faith alive and let the hard times mature them without hardening them.

I had seen the film with Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman years ago and loved it and wanted to read the book someday, but just didn’t think of it when making reading plans for the year. When I finally thought about it a few weeks ago, I almost waited to include as a classics read for next year, but then decided I didn’t want to wait. And I am so glad I went ahead. I love this book. I’d like to see the movie again now as well.

For those who would want to know about objectionable elements, there is a smattering of “hells” and “damns” (usually from the Forresters), mentions of whiskey (also usually by the Forresters and sometimes the doctor, who took to drink after his wife died). There is an odd scene when Jody is spending the night with the Forresters, and they wake up in the night due to a commotion outside. He’s shocked to find that they are all naked, and then instead of going back to bed, they start playing music – still naked. I guess that’s to show just how untamed and unconventional they are. Because of these things I don’t think it is exactly a children’s book (at least not without some editing and/or discussions): young adults, maybe. But I enjoyed it as an adult while not condoning those aspects.

The book is not from a Christian standpoint, but as a Christian I like to see what aspects of faith and perceptions of God are in a story. There was an odd exchange about something the doctor said:

Buck said, “That Doc, he’d crack him a joke right in the Lord’s face.”

Penny said, “That’s why he’s a good doctor.”

“How come?”

“Well, he gits to fool the Lord now and agin.”

The one character depicted as a Christian, Penny’s father, was characterized unfortunately as “stern as the Old Testament God.” (It’s a common misconception that God in the Old Testament is aloof and stern but Jesus is kind and compassionate. But they are one, and there are many references to God’s love, mercy and compassion in the OT and His sternness in the NT.) There is a general respect for God’s providence and an occasional lament at what is seen as His hardness, but not really a closeness to Him. Penny’s prayer at a crippled boy’s burying are particularly sweet. I wish the characters could have known that “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27) and “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1).

As I was poking around looking at reviews and articles about The Yearling after I finished it, I discovered this song by Andrew Peterson called “The Ballad of Jody Baxter” based on the book (which made me teary). You can find the text online at Project Gutenberg Australia which includes some beautiful illustrations by N. C. Wyeth. I enjoyed listening to the audiobook very ably narrated by Tom Stechschulte and reread some passages online.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)