Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Today is Beverly Cleary‘s birthday. She is one of my favorite authors, and an author who has brought great joy into the reading lives of so many people, young and old. Her understanding of children is wonderful, and her books are great fun to read at any age. I haven’t read all her books yet, but I particularly loved her very enjoyable memoirs: A Girl From Yamhill, and My Own Two Feet. Today she is 101 years young! Happy birthday, dear author friend!

Some wise words from Beverly Cleary:

In 50 years, the world has changed, especially for kids, but kids’ needs haven’t changed. They still need to feel safe, be close to their families, like their teachers, and have friends to play with.

Click here to see a list of all of Beverly Cleary’s books.

Kidnapped

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is one of my favorite adventure stories, so I had high hopes for liking his book, Kidnapped, equally as much when I chose it as one of my Classics Club reads. We have a lovely copy of the book, with those wonderful illustrations by N. C. Wyeth, that’s been sitting on our shelf for years, so I read it eagerly but I’m sorry to admit that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Treasure Island.

But in all fairness, it was a different kind of story from the pirates adventure of Treasure Island. This book is a work of historical fiction with characters that were actual people involved in an important part of Scottish history, so even without the pirates there was a lot of intrigue. I thought the beginning  and the ending of the book were quite good and definitely kept me interested.  The story slowed down a bit too much in the middle for me, perhaps because I didn’t know much about the history that inspired this story. The idea that this story could possibly drag a little in the middle seems strange considering the rip-roaring description on the title page.

 

I may have to give it another chance at some time because I really like the other books I have read by Robert Louis Stevenson. He’s a wonderful writer and storyteller, so perhaps it just wasn’t the right time for me to read it. That happens to me sometimes and, when I reread the book later, I love it. Does that ever happen to you?

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

A Short Reading Break

Hubby and I took a short break from projects and reading to make our Spring pilgrimage to the Oregon Garden in Silverton, Oregon. We go there a number of times each year, usually as a day trip since it’s only an hour-and-a-half drive away from us. But once a year we like to stay an extra day at the resort next to the Garden and spend two days walking the trails/pathways and soaking up the beauty. Included in our special package for the resort this time were tickets to the nearby tulip festival. So we have enjoyed two days of beautiful early spring blossoms and blooms…and the weather cooperated and gave us blue sky, sunshine, and temperatures that weren’t exactly warm but comfortable enough.

When we returned home this afternoon, I discovered that a book I had pre-ordered months ago had arrived on my Kindle. It’s a perfect book to follow up such a lovely trip to the Garden! I have some fun reading ahead of me!

April Poetry

I love the month of April, not just because Spring finally arrives after all the rainy grayness of our area, but also because it’s National Poetry Month. Poetry is a big part of my life. My grandmother was a poet, and there was always poetry in my family as I was growing up. I loved teaching poetry to elementary students for 27 years (there was so much young talent!!), and I love to write poetry, although I don’t do it often. I am in awe of the poets, the wordsmiths. They seem to have a direct line to the collective wisdom of the centuries. They definitely have a direct line to my heart.

Throughout April I always try to keep ‘a poem in my pocket’ and read as much poetry as I can.   This month, I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you.

So here’s an all time favorite of mine…one I discovered when my son was a newborn 45 years ago. It touched me very deeply way back then, so I always include this poem with the knitted baby blankets and sweaters I give as gifts to friends and family when a new baby is born.

Morning Song

~ by Sylvia Plath, from Ariel

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped our footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

A photo with my newborn daughter. I love that big brother is in the background of this one, barely visible but there.

March Reflections

March has been another busy month. Despite the many obligations and activities that kept me busy, I managed to finish reading the above five books and am in the middle of three others!

Early in the month, I joined The Classics Club, which was something I had thought about doing for years and so finally decided to just jump in. I put together a list of 50 books to read in 5 years, and filled my list with books I already own and really want to read, so there are some very nice choices ready for me. In March I read three books from that list and am almost finished with The Moorland Cottage, by Elizabeth Gaskell, which was the book on my list that was chosen as the “Spin” book for March/April. I’ve always loved reading the classics, for both adults and children, and so this is a challenge/group that fits me well.

Some of the other things that kept me very busy in March were my knitting and my walking. Because March was such a rainy month (record-setting, flood level rains!), I was indoors a lot and managed to finish two knitting projects — a scarf for me and a baby blanket for a soon-to-arrive grand nephew! (I love being a great aunt! My nephew calls us “Graunt” and “Gruncle”. )

I’ve also become a serious walker in the last year thanks to my 82-year-old walking partner, Gloria. She is a runner, and I’m a fast walker, so we’re the perfect match at our ages/stages of life! We walk/run a 5k distance twice a week, and meet in exercise class 3 days a week. In March, we both participated in the Shamrock Run in downtown Portland. Gloria finished 1st in her age division, and I came in 24th in my division. A very successful race for both of us!

March definitely came in like a lion, with an incredible number of storms and an amazing amount of rain. It’s going out today like a lamb, with mostly sunny skies and no rain. In between the lion and the lamb, came a lot of enjoyable reading and other activities.

The Railway Children

Illustration by Inga Moore…

Somehow I missed reading the books of Edith Nesbit as I was growing up. I would have loved them! Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to make up for missing them in childhood by gifting myself an E. Nesbit read every so often. That’s my way of making the pleasure last longer and I won’t run out of her books so soon!

My most recent Nesbit pleasure was to listen to the audiobook version of The Railway Children narrated by one of my favorite narrators, Virginia Leishman. What a fun way to spend some rainy hours indoors! And I would highly recommend it for families on road trips!

Publisher’s summary…

Father has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Now Mother has moved Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis from London to an old English country house. Missing the hustle and bustle of the city, the children are ecstatic to find that their new home is near a railway station. Making friends with both the porter and the station master is great fun. So is waving to a kindly old gentleman who rides through on the 9:15 every morning. When mother gets sick, it is he to whom they turn for help. And later, when a fortunate twist of fate returns their father to them, they are surprised to find the old gentleman involved once again.

Written by an unconventional woman whose friends included H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, this classic has been popular since it was first published almost 100 years ago. Virginia Leishman’s enthusiasm translates these adventuresome children into heroes for modern listeners.

Public Domain (P)1999 Recorded Books

As with all the Nesbit books I have read so far, the main characters are very nice, bright children who have great imaginations, love stories and outdoor play, and who change the world around them with what is called  “loving kindness” in the book. Oh how I wish I had read this book to my students while I was still teaching! The modeling of loving kindness is so important in today’s world…and how better to teach the idea than to read this beautiful story to young people and let them love those railway children and their adventures, and make those connections themselves.

illustration by C.E. Brock.

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

Wise Words: 03.29.17

A few years ago, at a time that was particularly difficult for me and my family, I read two short novels by Alice Hoffman:  Green Angel and then Green Witch. (They were later republished in one volume called Green Heart.) I loved them both! And they were very healing books for me. This morning, I found a quote in one of my reading notebooks copied down while reading Green Witch. I love this idea, so I’m happy to share the simple and profound wisdom of Alice Hoffman’s words with you today.

“I can’t help but wonder if it might be true that for every step you take, everyone you’ve ever loved walks with you.”

 

The Spectator Bird

The Spectator Bird, by Wallace Stegner, was published in 1976, and received the National Book Award for Fiction in 1977.

From the publisher…

Joe Allston is a cantankerous, retired literary agent who is, in his own words, “just killing time until time gets around to killing me.” His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties. His job, trafficking the talent of others, has not been his choice. He has passed through life as a spectator, before retreating to the woods of California in the 1970s with only his wife, Ruth, by his side. When an unexpected postcard from a long-lost friend arrives, Allston returns to the journals of a trip he has taken years before, a journey to his mother’s birth­place where he once sought a link with his past. Uncovering this history floods Allston with memories, both grotesque and poignant, and finally vindicates him of his past and lays bare that Joe Allston has never been quite spectator enough.

Throughout much of this story, Joe is a grumpy old man. At seventy, he has many physical aches and pains but he carries some heavy emotional aches and pains as well. Pain of any kind can certainly make a person grumpy and color one’s outlook on life. Dealing with the changes retirement brings is also quite challenging, and in Joe’s case presents itself in depression. Retirement puts one at a distance which is both welcome and a big challenge. I remember hearing my father say about retirement, “It’s amazing how quickly you are forgotten in the workplace.” Joe seems to be sitting on the sidelines, even more a spectator than earlier in his life, not sure of what he wants to do with his life at this point.

“Maybe because the bush tits are doing what I thought we would be doing out here, just messing around, paying no attention to time or duty, kicking up leaves and playing hide and seek up and down the oak trunks and generally enjoying themselves.

Joe also continues to grieve for the loss of his son and only child, Curt, who died in a surfing accident (Joe thinks it was possibly a suicide). He has not been able to let go of the guilt he feels about this troubled relationship with his son, and he questions himself every day.

“Do I hate the thought of Curt’s death more because he never fulfilled himself, or because he never fulfilled me?

Joe struggles with the aging process and grieves for the losses and irrevocable changes time brings, and he is also struggling to redefine meaning and purpose at this later stage of  life.  As he and Ruth share an old journal from a trip to Denmark they took many years earlier, they rediscover some important and defining moments in their marriage. It becomes clear that the most important thing is his relationship with Ruth, and that their marriage, with the easy (and difficult)  companionship of so many years, with what Virginia Woolf calls the “daily-ness” of their relationship, is the strength that guides him through each day and through the rest of his life. His realization of that is a tender and romantic notion, a notion that is also true in my own life experience. Wallace Stegner describes it beautifully.

“The truest vision of life I know is that bird in the Venerable Bede that flutters from the dark into a lighted hall, and after a while flutters out again into the dark. But Ruth is right. It is something — it can be everything — to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can’t handle.”

I read this book for The Classics Club. It is the first book I have read by Wallace Stegner, but will not be my last. I admit I’ve been a little intimidated to read him before now. I have some personal connections to him, and he has always loomed as a larger-than-life figure to me, so I think I was simply afraid to try him out. This book started out slowly for me, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but his “big ideas” really touched my heart, his literary references amazed me, and his beautiful “way with words” have all made me a real fan.

A Favorite Character

 

Virago Press has an Instagram meme for this month called “#BooksforChange“.  I’m really enjoying the photos that people are posting in response to this meme, and these daily prompts inspire lots of ideas to think about regarding my reading.

Today’s prompt is favorite female character,” and it didn’t take me very long to decide that Penelope Keeling, from Rosamunde Pilcher‘s The Shell Seekers, is one of my all time favorite female characters. I liked her very much when I first read the book as a young mother, but I like her even more now that I am approximately the same age as the character.

Some things I love about this character: I love that she’s a gentle, thoughtful person, that art and beautify help her survive the terrible losses in her life, that she has an inner strength that guides her well through the relationships in her life, and that she finds joy in the little things in life — “the gentle powers,” she calls them.

“I’ve lived with sadness so long. And a loneliness that nothing and nobody could assuage. But, over the years, I came to terms with what had happened. I learned to live within myself, to grow flowers, to watch my children grow; to look at paintings and listen to music. The gentle powers. They are quite amazingly sustaining.”

In the two different movie versions of this book, the character of Penelope Keeling was played by two lovely actresses — Vanessa Redgrave and Angela Lansbury. Both of them were perfect for the role.