Category Archives: Juvenile Fiction

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery was one of our three read-alouds for the month of January, which just happened to coincide with the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge at Reading to Know.  ;-)  I chose this as a read-aloud because I wanted to read it myself (I can’t remember if I ever actually finished it in years past) and because I’ve wanted to introduce my girls to L.M. Montgomery, but I’m holding out on Anne.  (Discovering Anne was a formative experience for me, and I want to afford my girls the same opportunity, if possible.  I’m a great believer in The Right Book at The Right Time.)  It turns out that The Story Girl was the perfect introduction.  With thirty-one (!) mostly short chapters, it made a perfect bedtime read-aloud.  (I really can’t overstate how much short chapters, even if the brevity of them ups the chapter count, means to me at this point in my parenting life!)  The fact that the story itself is often humorous was a bonus for us–who wants to go to sleep after reading a heavy story?  Of course, Montgomery’s stories aren’t without pathos, but even the more somber happenings and stories that the Story Girl tells are usually tempered by the maturity of the adult narrator by the chapter’s end.  Although we haven’t discussed much about the book, I know my girls enjoyed it based on how many times we all laughed aloud during our reading.  That’s always a sign of a great read aloud.

As for my own feelings about the book–well, what can I say?  I look more critically upon Montgomery’s works the more I read and re-read them.  That’s not to say I didn’t like this one; on the contrary, I’d have to say that this one rises to somewhere near the top of the heap for me.  I love the relationship between all the children in the story–both how realistically it’s portrayed (with all their quarreling and rivalries) and how warm it is.  Reading Montgomery always makes me wish I could go back and have a PEI childhood, or at the very least that I could give a PEI childhood to my own children.   I found the classism that’s so evident in Felicity’s (as well as the others’) attitude toward Peter Craig both interesting and one of the most obvious examples of foreshadowing I’ve read in a while.    ;-)  I’m once again flummoxed (and simultaneously amused) by Montgomery’s attitude toward religion in this story.  I positively laughed aloud myself at Peter’s quandary over whether to be Methodist or Presbyterian (and I’m neither!)  Those who think Montgomery’s tales are “nice little Christian stories” should beware!  ;-)  I do think Montgomery has as much insight into human nature as any person trained in counseling or psychiatry.  It all makes for very entertaining reading, that’s for sure.  Even her descriptions, as over-the-top as they are, were welcome to me, and my girls didn’t complain about them, either.  I don’t know that this would always be the case, but somehow this book just set right with us this January.  We’re going to stop with this one book for now, but I look forward to getting back to Montgomery and The Golden Road next January, if not before.

One thing that particularly interested me about this story this time was the shifting perspective from which it’s told.  Most of the time Beverley King narrates the story as if he’s right there as a boy, but occasionally we get this “pulled back” perspective from Beverely remisicing about his time in Carlisle that makes the story seem particularly poignant to this very sentimental forty year old woman.  Here’s one such example from chapter twenty-two in which they introduce their dream books that struck me particularly:

As I turn the pages and glance over the naive records, each one beginning, “Last night I dreamed,” the past comes very, vividly back to me.  I see that bowery orchard, shining in memory with a soft glow of beauty–“the light that never was on land or sea,”–where we sat on those September evenings and wrote down our dreams, when the cares of the day were over and there was nothing to interfere with the pleasing thores of composition.  Peter–Dan–Felix–Cecily–Felicity–Sara Ray–the Story Girl–they are all around me once more, in the sweet-scented, fading grasses, each with open dream book and pencil in hand, now writing busily, now staring fixedly into space in search of some elusive word or phrase which might best describe the indescribable.  I hear their laughing voices, I see their bright, unclouded eyes.  In this little, old book, filled with cramped, boyish writing, there is a spell of white magic that sets the years at naught.  Beverley King is a boy once more, writing down his dreams in the old King orchard on the homestead hill, blown over by musky winds.

I’m so very happy to have finally introduced my girls to L.M. Montgomery and look foward to many years of sharing her with all of my children!  (1910)

I simply cannot end this post without expressing my horror at the cover of the book that I’ve linked to Amazon above.  That, my friends, is a travesty of the first order.  I’m sharing the cover of the book that I own (and have owned for lo, these last twenty-five years) to give you a much more accurate representation of the spirit of The Story Girl.

 

L. M. Montgomery Reading ChallengeI read this book (in part) for the sixth annual L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge at Reading to Know.  Yes, this is my sixth year to participate!  Carrie and I bonded over all things L.M.M., and the rest is bloggy history.  :-)  Thus, I’ve collected a nice little list of reviews and other posts thanks to the challenge here at Hope Is the Word, which I’m sharing with you now, just in case you haven’t had your fill of Montgomery:

Emily of New Moon review

Emily Climbs review

Jane of Lantern Hill review

The Blue Castle review

Pat of Silver Bush review

Mistress Pat review

Magic for Marigold review

Kilmeny of the Orchard review

A Tangled Web review

L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, adapted by M.C. Helldorfer review (also thoughts on what makes a good adaptation)

PEI Reminscences, a post in which I share pictures and memories of mine and Steady Eddie’s honeymoon on the Island*****My favorite post!  :-)

L.M. Montgomery Meanderings, a post in which I reminisce about how I became such a fan

Please like & share:

Read Aloud Thursday–January 2015

read-aloud21

 

What a month of reading aloud it has been at the House of Hope!  I hope it has been a great one at your house, too.  :-)  I’m finding my read aloud resolve is being challenged in the face of so many demands on our time, and thus I’m almost always actively seeking ways to make time for reading aloud.  I’m not giving up yet–not by a long shot!  :-)

On my last library trip, I searched out some longer picture books, even beginning chapter books, to share with the DLM.  (He does listen to our chapter book read-alouds, but he prefers picture books.)  That library trip netted us some good ones:  Poppleton and Little Whistle, both from the pen of Cynthia Rylant; Cork and Fuzz by Dori Chaconas; and Mouse and Mole by Wong Herbert Yee.  All of these are series books, and all of them feature animals in various stages of anthropomorphization.  (Did I just make up a word?!?)  This wasn’t the first time we had read some of these, but for some reason this was the time that they really clicked for the DLM.   Maybe it’s time to revisit my own list of chapter books for the youngest listeners!




Right now I usually read from our chapter books twice a day:  once after lunch and once at bedtime.  This month we had the added complication of having three read-aloud chapter books going:  Calico Bush by Rachel Field for history (usually read sometime after lunch); and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (for a library bookclub which we hosted this month) and The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery (for fun and also because I love a challenge!)  as our nighttime reads.


It turned out that Steady Eddie took over the reading of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to free me up a bit at bedtime, and yes, I recognize the irony of the situation since a.) this was the first chapter book he has read to the kids and b.) it was for the mother-daughter bookclub.  ;-)  We had listened to the audiobook years ago, so the girls already knew a good bit about it.  They tolerated it being read aloud.  (Lulu sometimes voices her opinion that she’d rather read the book herself because she can read it so much faster.)  The DLM, on the other hand, really got into the story and even asked questions about it.  I think that might be another good one to add to the list!  The Story Girl is still a work in progress, though we’re just a few chapters shy of the ending and so should finish it well before January is out.  Stay tuned for my thoughts on that one.  :-)

I have shared a few more read-aloud reviews this month, mostly for the Armchair Cybils challenge:

As for what’s coming up next, here’s what I have in mind:  for history, our next read aloud is Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates.  I’m excited about this one; I’ve never read it!  Our next nighttime read aloud is The Orphan and the Mouse by Martha Freeman.  Sherry recommended I read it in the comments of her year-end post (her review is here), and it sounds like a book everyone can enjoy.  I’m looking forward to it!  Of course, I hold these plans loosely and am willing to pick up ‘most anything else when inspiration strikes!


My own personal reading didn’t quite measure up to the goals I had set at the beginning of January.  However, I am pleased with the amount and variety of reading aloud we did, at least as far as chapter books go.  (There’s ALWAYS room for improvement when it comes to making time to read aloud to my boys!)  How was your read-aloud month?  I’d love to hear about it!  Please link up your blog post below or share in the comments.

Happy Read Aloud Thursday!

 



Please like & share:

Calico Bush by Rachel Field

We finished our long, mid-eighteenth century trek with Marguerite to the Maine wilderness in Calico Bush earlier today, and with that I breathed a sigh of relief.  This was the second book by Rachel Field we’ve enjoyed as a read-aloud.  We read Hitty, Her First Hundred Years almost four years ago (!!!), so I’m not sure how much my girls actually remember of it.  I chose Calico Bush not so much because we loved Hitty (though I did, and the girls enjoyed it) but because of its setting’s proximity to the French and Indian War. It’s the story of Marguerite LeDoux, a French girl “bound out” to the Sargent family after her Grandme’re and Oncle Pierre both die before they can settle with Marguerite in America.  Marguerite moves with the Sargents to the wilds of Maine from Marblehead, Massachusetts, and their new home really is the outpost of civilization.  They also realize after they arrive in Maine that the man from whom they purchased their new home had not been on the up-and-up about it:

It was risky business settling anywhere along the coast, but that point of land was notorious.  There was something queer and sinister about it.  The Indians held it in very peculiar regard.  It must in some way be connected with their religion, for every year in the late spring they had appeared in hordes, ugly and resentful of the white men’s intrusion.  (41)

In addition to the constant fear of the Natives, the Sargents deal with other problems–the hard winter, the hard work associated with taming the land, etc.  Life isn’t without its joys, though, as Joel Sargent’s younger brother Ira also settles with them and generally makes life a little more cheerful than the elder Sargents are wont to do.  There are also the neighbors, some of which look askance at the Sargents because of their foolishness for settling there.  There’s a bit of romantic rivalry between Ira Sargent and another neighbor for the affections of a young woman.  There’s also a tragedy (which took us completely by surprise!)  Frontier life is presented very realistically, I would imagine.  The best part is the internal struggle in Marguerite–how can she maintain her French identity, especially as it is looked upon with derision by the Sargents?  She’s a plucky heroine, though, and she finally does make her mark positively on the family by the end of the story.

Calico Bush won a 1932 Newbery honor designation, and it’s very much a product of its time.  In other words, it’s pretty non-culturally sensitive in its treatment of Native Americans, etc.  I tend to not mind that so much,  but even I thought this one seemed a bit extreme in some ways (i.e. depicting the Natives as childlike or ignorant, etc.)  The most difficult thing about the book to me was the fact that there are no chapter divisions; instead, the book is divided into seasons.  This makes reading aloud particularly difficult since there are few natural places to stop reading for the day.  My personal favorite part of the story is Marguerite’s relationship with an older neighbor woman, Hepsa Jordan.  I also enjoyed the references to folktales and natural remedies, and if Wikipedia is to be believed, the fact that Marguerite herself was probably a real person.  All in all, the plot and characterization seem somewhat subdued, which perhaps is another mark of the time in which it was written.  Am I glad we read it?  Yes.  Would I read it aloud again?  I’m not sure.  It’s one I could definitely see my girls picking up on their own, so I might choose something that lends itself to short read-aloud sessions a little more if I knew they’d get a “taste” for the time period on their own anyway.  Still, it’s a good story and one I’m glad we shared together.  (Macmillan, 1931)

Please like & share:

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I cannot believe that I waited until my forty-first year of life to read this book!  It was a long, slow trip for me–I started it back in December for my bookclub which postponed its last meeting of 2014 to the first week of January of 2015.  Then I didn’t finish it before the meeting.  However, I was determined not to give up on it; I was enjoying it too much!  I read the free Kindle version (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Tom Sawyer’s Comrade) and listened to it via OneClick Digital through my local library.  Although listening is not my preferred method for enjoying a story, I have to say that this particular book works extremely well as an audiobook.  The various dialects and characters were read to perfection by Norman Dietz.  I found myself smiling and laughing aloud at Huck’s hijinks as read by Norman Dietz, even as I walked around my neighborhood “plugged in” to my iPhone.  (I wonder what my neighbors thought?)  Rather than discuss the plot or even the characters much here, today I’m just sharing some random thoughts about the book.

  • I loved all of the wonderful descriptions of the Mississippi River and its environs.  Some people dislike a lot of description in stories, but really, I’m more interested in the description and characterization than I am the plot.  Not, of course, that Huck Finn is devoid of plot, but I definitely don’t think the plot is its strongest point.
  • I noted with interest the episodic nature of the story.  Many of the chapters could stand alone as short stories.  This is very good for someone who reads in short allotments of time!
  • Of course, I love Twain’s sly commentary about slavery and human dignity that we hear through Huck’s and Tom’s discussions.
  • I also love the relationship between Huck and Jim.
  • Early in the story I realized that one of my favorite authors, Richard Peck, sounds an awful lot like Mark Twain, and my opinion was only strengthened the further in Huck Finn that I read.  If you’ve read and enjoyed Huckleberry Finn, give Richard Peck’s historical novels a try.  A couple of his that I have reviewed here are The Teacher’s Funeral and Here Lies the LibrarianThey are hilarious and SO good!
  • I can definitely see why this book is considered a classic.
  • The funniest part to me is when Tom and Huck meet back up in the last quarter or so of the book, and Tom keeps making Jim’s rescue much more difficult that it needs to be.  That kept me in stitches!
  • I read Tom Sawyer for the first time a few years ago , and many of the sentiments I expressed about it I also feel about Huck Finn.  Most important is that I had also built this story up to be complicated and difficult, and it isn’t at all.  It’s mostly FUN, with the added bonus of a subtly powerful message.  With all of that said, I adore Huck while I merely really like Tom.

I wish I could share a really thoughtful review about this story, but alas, the way I read this one (back and forth between Kindle and audio) makes it very difficult to do so.  I did share a quote I love a few weeks ago, and had I the time, I could share a hundred more.  However, I AM already calling this one as a top pick of 2015!  I enjoyed it that much!

And with that, I mark another one off my Classics Club list!  :-)

Please like & share:

The Box of Delights by John Masefield

The Box of Delights by John Masefield is a book I learned of on the Well-Trained Mind forums in a thread about Christmas read-alouds.  I purchased it without knowing much about it, other than that C.S. Lewis said this about it:

It is a unique work. . .and will often be re-read. . .The beauties, all the ‘delights’ that keep on emerging from the box–are so exquisite and quite unlike anything I have seen elsewhere.

That was apparently enough to convince me we should read it, and so we took up this fantastical story in early December and only finished it this past Thursday.  It’s a dense and fairly complicated story, and for at least the first half of it I had visions of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday playing in my head as I tried to grasp the plot.  (Rather than try to sum up a rather complex plot, I’ll just point you in the direction of this summary.  Click through and read the summary if you want to have an inkling about what the rest of my review means.)  Somewhere about halfway through the book I realized that the Box of Delights, after which the story is named, allows the characters to travel through time, transport themselves to other places in their own time, AND shrink themselves down to the size of a mouse so that they can move about without being detected.  Interesting, huh?  An understanding of the various positions within the Anglican (?) church would be a real plus in understanding this book, though we made out okay with just knowing that all of the titles we read about were cathedral staff.  The fact that their names were things like the Reverend Arthur Pure, Reverend William Godley, Thomas Holyport, and Charles Lectern was endlessly entertaining to me.  There are other little sly bits of humor like this in this story, and that’s the thing I like most about it.  I think the girls enjoyed the pure absurdity of it, though when the final chapter came to an end, one girl was quite put out with the ending.  If it hadn’t been that the ending was the culmination of quite the amazing scene which included two chariots drawn by a team of lions and a team of unicorns, I think she would’ve been even more disappointed than she was.  The other girl cited this book as one of her favorites of the year.  This is a very British story, and at times the gap between British and American English was broad enough to leave us scratching our heads.  However, in the end I’m glad we read it, though I’m not sure it’s one that wouldn’t be enjoyed just as well or even better read independently.  We’re putting this one in our Christmas Book Basket and adding it to our list of Christmas-related chapter books.  (New York Review Children’s Collection, 1957)

Please like & share: