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

OR

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 random.org. 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!

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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.)

Book Review: Songs of the Morning: Stories and Poems for Easter

Song of the MonringSongs of the Morning: Stories and Poems for Easter was compiled by Pat Alexander and includes excerpts from the writings of C. S. Lewis, E. B. White, Dickens and others, some (mostly poems) written by children. I had bought it ages ago from a clearance section, put it on my shelf, noticed it it off and on through the years, and kept forgetting about it at Easter time. Finally this year I remembered to pull it out in the weeks preceding Easter. I like to read something devotional pertaining to Easter during that time, and while this wasn’t that exactly, it was both pleasant and beneficial.

I don’t think I realized, or I had forgotten, that it was geared primarily to children, probably the same age as those who would be able to read the Narnia series. But adults can gain from it, too.

I like that it couches the Easter story within historical context. The first section is “How It All Began” and begins with a short excerpt from a children’s Bible about God creating the world and sin entering in (Pat Alexander also wrote The Lion’s Children’s Bible, which I had not heard of before this, so I don’t know how well it expresses Biblical truth, but the excerpts I read here were fine). Then there are Narnia excerpts about the founding of Narnia and the White Witch and a couple of other sources to further illustrate those truths.

Other sections follow a similar pattern and focus on the birth of Christ, the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. There’s also a section of “The Greatest Love,” with several historical and story illustrations of sacrificial love (like Sydney Carton’s in A Tale of Two Cities and a story about a boy’s dog risking its life to save the boy’s), one called “It’s All Right,” dealing with how new life in Christ should affect our lives in practical terms, like forgiveness of others, and a final one called “A New Beginning.”

The stories come from a variety of countries. Some are old, some are new. Some are from adults’ work, some from children’s books. Some are fun, some are serious. Pat did a fine job putting all these sources together. It doesn’t look like the book is in print any more, but there are copies that can be purchased online, or perhaps you can keep an eye out for it at library sales and such.

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

Laura Ingalls Wilder 2015 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

OR

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

OR

A CD (hard copy or digital) of music based on songs from the Little House Books: Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder OR Arkansas Traveler: Music from Little House on the Prairie. (Thanks, Susan, for telling me about them!)

If none 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 random.org. a week from today to give everyone time to get their last books and posts finished.

For myself, this month I read (linked to my reviews):

By the Shores of Silver Lake

The Long Winter

I also wrote Happy Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder with some fun facts and favorite moments and quotes from her books.

I had planned to read the newly published Pioneer Girl, Laura’s first book that had never been published before now. But they quickly ran out of all they printed at first and had to print more, and so far I have not received it.

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.

<strong>The giveaway is closed and the winner is Bekah! Congratulations! I will leave the comments open for those still finishing up their reading and posts for the challenge.</strong>

Book Review: By the Shores of Silver Lake

Silver LakeBy the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder opens on a sad time. Everyone in the family except Pa and Laura have had scarlet fever, and Mary has been left blind. Pa has no idea how he will pay the bill for the doctor, who has come every day. In the previous book, On the Banks of Plum Creek, the family had experienced a devastating grasshopper invasion, prairie fires, and blizzards. They were about at the end of their rope at this point, when a relative visits with a job offer for Charles. Her husband was a contractor working with the railroads, and needed a good man to be the “storekeeper, bookkeeper, and time keeper” at a railroad camp.  The job would pay $50 a month, and there was an opportunity to claim a homestead. Ma doesn’t want to leave and wants the family to be settled, but agrees this opportunity seems providential. The sale of their farm covers all their expenses and provides a little extra. Pa goes on ahead to start the job while Ma and the girls continue to recuperate and gain strength and then get ready to move. They come later on the train – a new experience for all of them, and I particularly enjoyed Laura’s description of how it both scared and excited her. Laura “knew now what Pa meant when he spoke of the wonderful times they were living in…in one morning, they had actually traveled a whole week’s journey.” Pa later muses, “I wouldn’t wonder if you’ll live to see a time, Laura, when pretty nearly everybody’ll ride on railroads and there’ll hardly be a covered wagon left.”

First they get used to the railroad camp, where Ma instructs the girls to stay away from the “rough men,” but Pa indulges Laura’s curiosity one day and takes her to see the construction and explain it all to her.

Then, when that section of the railroad is done and the camp breaks up for winter, the Ingalls family is offered use of the surveyors’ house for the winter. The surveyors will be gone for the winter but the house is snug and well-stocked, and that will allow the family to save money by staying on instead of having to travel back East. Plus they’ll get a head start on claiming their homestead before spring, when great numbers are expected to travel west. But their nearest neighbor is 60 miles away on one side and 40 on the other. Introvert that I am, that would be a little too isolated for even me! But as it turns out, they do have more visitors than expected, and as they are in the only occupied house on the prairie at that time, they provide a lot of hospitality when people come.

There are dangers with wolves, unruly men, claim jumpers, horse thieves and the possibility that Pa might miss out on his claim. There is a joyous Christmas, lots of violin playing in the winter evenings, the springing up of a new town almost overnight come springtime, meeting new friends and unexpectedly coming across a few old ones.

A few observations:

Laura is almost 13 and starts out a little weary this time, as the main helper to the family after Mary’s illness, though Mary eventually recovers some abilities and helps keep little Grace entertained.

Their parents ask Laura to be Mary’s eyes and describe things to her, and I can’t help but think that sharpened both her skills of observations and her descriptive ability. Mary tells Laura she “makes pictures when she talks.”

There is one remark by and about Ma concerning Indians that makes one wince and would be considered racist today. I think it was primarily motivated by fear: they had had some scary encounters with Indians in Little House on the Prairie, and of course the Indians had right to be upset with the white man’s encroachment on their lands. But their main ways of fighting back were, of course, terribly frightening to white people, so it is no wonder there were bad feelings on both sides that took ages to begin to overcome (and is not completely overcome even now).

I appreciated the way Ma tried to teach the girls to “know how to behave, to speak nicely in low voices and have gentle manners and always be ladies” despite the rough and uncivilized places they lived.

During the days of building a building in town and then a claim shanty were days that would have been very hard for me, as they lived in unfinished places (waking up one morning with a foot of snow on top of them in the house from an unexpected blizzard) and continued building around themselves. It was for them as well, but they took it in stride. Pa comments once, “That’s what it takes to build up a country. Building over your head and under your feet, but building. We’d never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started.”

I am glad Laura included words to many of the songs that Pa played and the family sang. I knew many of them, and that helped me imagine the scenes.

Laura catches a fleeting glimpse of her future husband, Almanzo, but at this point she’s primarily interested in his beautiful horses and has no idea of their future.

Laura shares her Pa’s desire to explore and would rather continue to travel and see new places rather than settle down, but Pa promised Ma they would finally stay put.

I was puzzled by Ma’s suppression of the girls’ outbursts of emotion, laughter as well as anger. The family did laugh quite a lot, but there were times Ma restrained them in situations where, these days, we wouldn’t have a problem. I think that was just what politeness and”ladylikeness” looked like at that time. I am all for teaching children restraint and self-control; it just went farther than what we would consider necessary by today’s standards.

Once again I enjoyed this glimpse into our country’s history as well as into the Ingalls family. There is always much I admire about them. This would be an excellent book for children to read to understand how the Homestead Act worked out in real life and what people had to go through to settle in a new area then. But it is a good book to just read for enjoyment as well.

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

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2015

The month of February contains the dates of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth and death, so it seems a fitting month to focus on her life and writings. This is our fourth year to do so, and I have enjoyed it each time. Many of us grew up reading the Little House books. I don’t know if there has ever been a time when there wasn’t interest in the Little House series since it first came out. They are enjoyable as children’s books, but they are enjoyable for adults as well. It’s fascinating to explore real pioneer roots and heartening to read of the family relationships and values.

On Feb. 1 I’ll have a sign-up post where you can let us know if you’ll be participating and what you’d like to read. That way we can peek in on each other through the month and see how it’s going (that’s half the fun of a reading challenge). You can read anything by or about Laura. You can read alone or with your children or a friend. You can read just one book or several throughout the month — whatever works with your schedule. If you’d like to prepare some food or crafts or activities somehow relating to Laura or her books, that would be really neat too. In the past I think some have made food or clothing from the styles of the day: Annette even had a Little House-themed birthday party for one of her daughters, (and, unrelated to the challenge but just from her own interest she started the Little House Companion blog: you might find some neat ideas for activities and Laura-related books there.

On Feb 28 I’ll have a wrap-up post with a Mr. Linky so you can link back to any posts you’ve written for the challenge or to a wrap-up post. You do not have to have a blog to participate: if you don’t, you can just share with us in the comments that day what you’ve read.

Need some ideas beyond the Little House books themselves? Annette, as I mentioned, has shared several books for children here. I compiled a list of Books Related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and some others are listed in the comments. Laura fan extraordinaire and historian Melanie Stringer has a treasure trove of information at Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Have fun gathering your materials and planning what to read and do, and I’ll see you back here Feb. 1!

Here is a code for a button for the challenge:

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge
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Book Review: Number the Stars

Number the StarsI had never heard of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry until seeing it listed on Carrie’s  Reading to Know Classics Book Club for November. It was published in 1989 and awarded a Newberry medal in 1990. Its name is taken from Psalm 147, read in a moment of need:

Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.

The Lord doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.

He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.

He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.

It’s the story of WWII in Denmark through the eyes of a ten year old girl, Annemarie. At the opening of the story, the Nazis have been in Denmark for two years. Their beloved king had surrendered because they were a small country without much of an army, and they would only lose people in a war. Soldiers with guns are on almost all the street corners. One of them scared Annemarie and her friend, Ellen, by stopping them when they were racing down the street. Different items have been rationed or are no longer available.

Ellen’s family, the Rosens, are Jewish and good friends with Annemarie’s family, the Johansens. When the Rosens receive word that the Jews are about to be “relocated,” some members of the Resistance help many of them to escape. Mr. and Mrs. Rosen depart while leaving Ellen with the Johansens for a while, everyone pretending that Ellen is another daughter.

Annemarie’s mother takes the girls to her uncle’s house for a visit, and Annemarie perceives it has something to do with helping the Jews. When her mother and uncle begin talking of a Great Aunt Birte who has died and whose casket will be brought to his house. Annemarie knows there is no such person as Great-Aunt Birte and she is offended that they lied to her, but her uncle explains the situation as much as he can. He explains that not even he knows everything about the operation and that “it is much easier to be brave if you do not know everything.”

Annemarie and Ellen are delighted to find that the Rosens are among those whom Uncle Henrik and others are helping, but sad that that means Ellen will have to go away. There are several scares before they can actually leave, however, and Annemarie finds herself in a position of being the only one who can carry out a vital part.

Early in the story Annemarie wonders if she would be brave enough to die to protect her friends and comforts herself that she is only an “ordinary person who would never be called upon for courage.” I really liked how the bravery and courage of “ordinary people” were woven into the story. For some it was being part of an underground plot to help the Jews escape, for some it was facing their fear of an ocean to enable their family to get to freedom, for others it was pretending life is normal when it is anything but. When Annemarie’s protests her uncle calling her brave, because she had actually been terribly frightened, her uncle tells her, “That’s all being brave means – not thinking about the dangers. Just thinking about what you must do. Of course you were frightened. I was too, today. But you kept your mind on what you had to do” (pp. 122-123).

I have heard that sentiment in many a story of  real-life heroes. They didn’t think themselves brave or heroic. They just did what needed to be done.

I really enjoyed the afterword, too, in which the author explains which parts of the story are real and which are fictional. Some of the characters are fictional, though some are based on real ones, but the historical facts are accurate. Denmark helped almost its entire Jewish population (nearly 7,000 people) by smuggling them into Sweden.

This story has the same vibe to me as another favorite children’s book, Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie by Peter Roop. Though the plot and setting are different, it has the same theme of being able to do and face something you didn’t think you could. I enjoyed this story very much and am thankful to Heather for choosing it for us.

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

Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

OzI hadn’t planned on reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz any time soon. It was one of those “Maybe someday…” books to me. But when a great sale on an Audible version read by Anne Hathaway came through some time ago, I went ahead and bought it. And last month when I had several days between the end of my last audiobook and the availability of my next Audible credit at the beginning of the month and looked for a short book to fill the time, this seemed like a perfect choice.

The story is so well-known, I don’t think I need to go over the plot at all, but just in case someone is unfamiliar with it, the main character is Dorothy Gale, a little girl who lives with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in Kansas. Everything is pretty grey and cheerless, except Dorothy’s little dog, Toto. When a cyclone heads toward their house, Dorothy doesn’t quite make it to the storm cellar before the house is whisked away and ends up in the land of the Munchkins, right on top of the wicked witch of the East, for which the Munchkins are very grateful. Dorothy wants to get home to Kansas, but they don’t know how to help her: they can only advise that she go to see the great wizard, Oz, in the Emerald City. So she follows the yellow brick road that direction and along the way meets a Scarecrow who wishes he had brains, a Tin Woodman who wishes he had a heart, and a Cowardly Lion who wishes he had courage. They all decide to join her to see if Oz can help them. But Oz doesn’t quite respond the way they want, sending them on a mission to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. And eventually they find the wizard isn’t who they thought he was at all.

Of course, the book has its differences from the well-known movie. We only see 3 Munchkins rather than a townful, there is no “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” line, the shoes Dorothy is given from the dead witch are silver rather than ruby (probably due to the effect of which would look best in Technicolor). I enjoyed getting more back story of the characters, especially the Tin Woodman and how he came to be tin when he was originally human. The winged monkeys aren’t inherently evil – they’re mischievous, but they prove helpful in the end. There is an elephant-sized spider, a little town made of china people and buildings, and a race of people called Hammerheads who can shoot their necks out and butt people off the hill they’re guarding. Those are all interesting in themselves, but since they come between Dorothy’s leaving Oz (which is the end of the movie version) and her finally getting back home, they seem a little anticlimactic.

The book was written in 1899 and is considered the first American fairy tale. In the introduction, Baum says he wrote it just for the pleasure of children. He felt that “Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder-tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.” I would say there is still plenty of “disagreeable incident” in the story, with some of the trials the troop has to undergo, but they are not of the “horrible and blood-curdling” variety he feels are “devised by their authors to point to a fearsome moral to each tale.” I don’t think morals and stories are antithetical, but I agree it’s fine to  have a story just for fun. And though Baum wasn’t necessarily trying to dispense morality, I think an observant reader would glean good traits from the good characters (their kindness, thoughtfulness, bravery, hard work, persistence, etc.).

I found it interesting that in the book, the idea that “There’s no place like home” came from Dorothy herself: it wasn’t something she had to be told by Glinda.

The Scarecrow listened carefully, and said, “I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas.”

“That is because you have no brains” answered the girl. “No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”

When my children were very little, I had trouble with the idea of a “good witch” in the story, so I didn’t let them see the film for a long while. But I eventually came to terms with the idea that fairy tale witches are a completely different thing from real-life ones.

Apparently Baum did not want to write sequels, but the interest and demand was so great that he wrote thirteen of them.

I’m so glad I gave it a go. Anne Hathaway did a marvelous job narrating. I agree with C. S. Lewis’s quote to the effect that a good children’s book should be enjoyable by adults as well. It would be hard to say whether I like the book or the film better. I like them both. They each have their charms.

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