The Winnie-the-Pooh Books

Winnie-the-Pooh is a creation of A. A. Milne based on the teddy bear of his son, Christopher Robin. Milne had written many other genres: plays, magazine articles, books for adults. But these days he is best known for Pooh and Christopher Robin and their friends.

My kids grew up with the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh and company. There were four individual videos at the time: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, and Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore. The first three videos have since been combined into The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Then there was a Saturday morning cartoon called The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which we watched regularly for many years. We had stuffed Poohs (and Tiggers and Piglets) and Pooh picture books. If there were Pooh sheets or jammies, we would have had them.

But somehow, I never read the original Pooh books by A. A. Milne to my kids, and I have always regretted that. I’m not sure why I never read them. I had not read them in my own growing-up years: perhaps if I had, I would have made it a point to read them to my children just as I searched out some of the Little Golden Book titles that I’d had as a child. I dipped into one of the volumes at some point, but I don’t remember which one or if I completed it.

When I read Christopher Robin Milne’s autobiographies recently, I was reminded that I had never read the original Pooh books. So I set out to correct that lack.

There are four books that specially deal with Pooh.

When We Were Very Young is a book of children’s poems. Christopher Robin’s bear there is named Edward. Some time after that, he renamed his toy bear Winnie-the-Pooh (with hyphens when his whole name is written, though he is often called just Pooh or Pooh Bear. The Disney version dropped the hyphens). “Pooh” was after a swan that Christopher had previously given that name to, and Winnie after a bear by that name in a zoo. Some of the poems feature Christopher, but all of them were probably inspired by him. One of the most famous is “Vespers” about Christopher saying his prayers.

Winnie-the-Pooh is a collection of short stories about Christopher Robin and Pooh and the other animals/toys. The House at Pooh Corner, another collection of stories, was published next, and finally there was another collection of poems, Now We Are Six. “Forgiven” is one of my favorite poems from this volume.

One of the things I had liked about the videos and TV series was that they were quiet. There were conflicts and predicaments and misunderstandings, yes. But the shows weren’t full of noise and razzle-dazzle like other kid’s shows were (that was something I liked about Mister Rogers as well).

The books are the same way. The characters are endearing. Pooh is “a bear of very little brain,” but he is kind, thoughtful, and a faithful friend. He likes to make up rhymes and take time for “smackerel” of “a little something—usually “hunny.” Christopher Robin is the one everyone looks up to and the one who rescues the others when they get in trouble over their heads. Piglet is small and timid, but also kind and thoughtful. Rabbit is bossy, but has everyone’s best interests at heart. Eeyore is gloomy (actually, he’s a little harsher in the books). Owl is wise (he can even spell Tuesday!), Kanga is motherly, Roo is spunky.

One of my favorite quotes is from Pooh in The House at Pooh Corner about how poems come to him: “But it isn’t easy,’ said Pooh. ‘Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” Another is this: “Sometimes,’ said Pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” And these:

Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.

People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
 
Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

I love how Kanga is described as carrying her family in her pocket (something Rabbit thinks strange at first).

And I dearly love this exchange between Eeyore and Pooh, read in Eeyore’s deadpan voice, when Eeyore thinks everyone has forgotten his birthday:

“Good morning, Pooh Bear, if it is a good morning. Which I doubt.”

“Why, what is the matter”

“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t, and that’s all there is to it.”

“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.

“Gaiety. Song and dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

I was very glad to see that the films and videos, for the most part, told the stories almost completely as the books did. The series went on to develop their own stories based on the characters, but kept the same tone.

Milne captures childhood innocence and ways of thinking well with playfulness and gentleness. I was very sad to learn that Christopher came to resent the books about him as he became an adult, perhaps due to teasing from others when he went to boarding school. Christopher said in his own books that his father wasn’t very expressive in person: his inner thoughts came out in his writing. But his father’s obvious delight in his son and how he thought shines through in these stories and poems. I think Christopher must have come to terms with that at some point since he provided a favorable introduction to the audiobook of When We Were Very Young, saying family friend Peter Dennis’ narration presents Pooh “as he [Christopher] knew him.”

All four volumes of the books were available as part of my Audible subscription. I listened to the stories via audiobook, but read the poetry collections via Kindle (which included, thankfully, E. H. Shephard’s original illustrations).

One thing I didn’t like about the audiobooks was the long musical interludes between chapters.

But otherwise it was a sweet experience to visit these characters their original settings.

The Back to the Classics Challenge allows us three children’s classics. So I am going to count Winnie-the-Pooh as one for the “Classic that’s been on your TBR list the longest.”

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting first created the character of Doctor Dolittle in letters home to his children while he was in WWI. The first book in the series is The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed.

Dr. Dolittle is a medical doctor, but he has a lot of pets. He begins to lose patients when they are scared by the number and kinds of pets he keeps. Someone suggests he become an animal doctor. His talking parrot tells him all animals have languages and teaches the doctor several of them. The doctor’s fame spreads far and wide since he can now diagnose and treat animals for the exact ailments they tell him about.

There’s only one problem. Animals aren’t paying customers. As much as the doctor dislikes money and wishes he didn’t have to bother with it, a certain amount is necessary to live.

So he and the animals devise ways to economize plus make some money.

Then birds bring word that monkeys in Africa are very sick, with many of them dying. They’ve heard of Doctor Doolittle and wonder if he can help them.

So after making arrangements for his house and the animals who will stay home, and finding a boat and supplies, the good doctor sets off along with several of his animal companions. They experience several misadventures during their travels and their time in Africa.

I had not realized that there were a number of books with Doctor Doliitle as the main character until I set out to read about him. I had thought that there was one main chapter book. This book is the first written, but others tell of time periods before this book. So some sets of the Doolittle books are arranged in the chronology of the settings rather than publication order. I prefer publication order of any series because that’s how the story would have originally unfolded. Sometimes we don’t care much about the back story until we come to know and care about the characters and their world. I listed to the audiobook very nicely read by James Langton. But it was put together in setting order, so I had to search through several beginnings of chapters in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, which had been placed first, before finding this story (the beginning of the different books wasn’t marked).

Also, I didn’t realize the set I listened to was “fully updated for the modern listener.” I would much rather read and listen to books in their original words. One new illustrated edition has taken the liberty of adding an “updated magical twist.” So if you prefer original classics, check for these things before choosing a volume.

Some editions say they have removed “ethnically insensitive” parts of the story. I assume this one did since it’s “revised for modern readers.” Generally, I’d rather leave stories as they were and explain why certain things are no longer done or said. I don’t know what things were removed from these books. Perhaps, especially in the versions designed for children to read themselves, it is better to adapt them without those offensive elements.

I hadn’t intended to read Doctor Dolittle until this set came up in a “2 books for one credit” sale on Audible. I’m glad to be more familiar with it now, but I don’t think I liked it well enough to read the other two books in this set.

I have not seen any of the film versions.

I’m counting this book for 20th century classic for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Three Children’s Books About Race

Recently, my daughter-in-law and I were discussing the lack of diversity in children’s books. Bible story books, in particular, seemed to draw Biblical people lily white, when in reality they would have been Middle Eastern in appearance.

Not long afterward, I came across What God’s Family Looks Like, a post from The Story Warren about children’s books that deal with race. I looked up the main book mentioned, then followed a rabbit trail of recommended reading. I ended up getting these three books.

Why be colorblind when we can be colorFULL insteadThe first is Colorfull: Celebrating the Colors God Gave Us by Dorena Williamson, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. I love the tagline: “Why be colorblind when we can be colorFULL instead?”

The back of the book says this:

Imani and Kayla are the best of friends who are learning to celebrate their different skin colors. As they look around them at the amazing colors in nature, they can see that their skin is another example of God’s creativity! This joyful story takes a new approach to discussing race: instead of being colorblind, we can choose to celebrate each color God gave us and be colorFULL instead.

Imani’s Granny Mac helps gives the kids some perspective. My daughter-in-law said she wished adults would read this book, too.

When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner, illustrated by David Catrow, doesn’t explain or emphasize race: the story just incorporates it naturally as part of who God made you to be. God planned each person with their particular gifts, appearances, personalities, etc. to reflect His image.

One line in this gave me pause: “Have faith but love more.” At first it seemed to downplay faith. But you could also read it as saying, “Have faith, but don’t stop there: love others.”

An inside page:

Trillia Newbell’s God’s Very Good Idea (illustrated by Catalina Echeverri) took several weeks to get here. I hope that means lots of people are buying it!

Trillia begins at the beginning: with creation. Making people, and making them in all different colors and varieties, was God’s idea. They would “all enjoy loving him and all enjoy loving each other . . . reflecting what God is like.”

But the first people chose to disobey God. That plunged all of us into sin. We don’t love God or each other as we ought. “Sometimes we treat others badly because they are different than us.”

But part of God’s very good plan was sending Jesus to come and live on earth, to show us how to love, to die on the cross so we could be forgiven, and to rise from the dead, and to give us the Holy Spirit to help us live for Him.

He also gave us the church as a foretaste of what it will be like in heaven some day, “lots of different people enjoying loving him and loving each other.”

I love that Trillia’s story is couched firmly in the Bible and the gospel. She gives an overview of creation, sin, and redemption in words a child could understand.

I didn’t get a chance to read these with my grandson. I sent him home with them. But I hope he enjoys them!

I believe children need to be taught early that God created all people in His image.

Now that I look again at the post I first mentioned, I see a whole list that I must have forgotten to look up when I got distracted earlier. So I will probably explore some of those. Now that we have some books with a good, Biblical worldview about race, I’d love to find some that just show kids of all different colors naturally as characters in a story.

Do you know of any good books for kids along these lines?

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement, Worth Beyond Rubies, Grace and Truth,
Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon, Booknificent Thursday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge Wrap-up for 2020

The end of February closes the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge. I hope you had fun with it, and I look forward to hearing about what you read!

A week from today I’ll use random.org to draw a name from the comments on this post to win either The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker, Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson, The Little House Coloring Book, or a similarly-priced book related to Laura. A week should give some who are still reading time to finish up and post. You don’t have to have a blog to participate: you can tell us what you read in the comments here. If you have a blog, you can either let us know what you read in the comments or share the links back to any reviews or challenge-related posts from your blog or even from Goodreads if you review books there. Due to shipping costs, I’m afraid I can only ship to those in the US.

I only read one book this year: Old Town in the Green Groves by Cynthia Rylant about the two years Laura left out of the Little House Books.

Old Town in the Green Groves about Laura Lingalls Wilder's lost years
The book I had originally planned to read was actually about Little Women rather than Little House, so I’ll save it for Tarissa’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge in June.

As I mentioned earlier this year, this will be the last Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge hosted here, for a number of reasons. Thanks so much to those who have participated at any point during the last nine years. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed delving into books by and about Laura, discussing them with you, and hearing what you’ve read.

Remember, leave a comment on this post about what you read or did for the challenge before Saturday of next week to be eligible for the drawing.

Update: The winner is Tarissa! Congratulations!

Book Review: Old Town in the Green Groves

Laura Ingalls Wilder originally wrote out the story of her life in Pioneer Girl. When that manuscript was rejected several times, acting upon suggestions from editors, Laura reframed her narrative into a story for children about a pioneer family traveling west (p. 31). She left out a year that the family traveled back east due to the grasshopper infestations that twice ruined their crops and hopes in Plum Creek, although she had told of it in Pioneer Girl. Pamela Smith’s Hill’s notes on this section in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography says:

She deliberately chose not to depict this part of her family’s experiences in her fiction. “It is a story in itself,” Wilder explained to Lane in 1937, “but does not belong in the picture I am making of the [fictional Ingalls] family (LIW tp RWL, [Dec. 1937 or Jan. 1938], Box 13, file 193, Lane Papers). Moving the fictional family east and not west would have undermined Wilder’s optimistic portrait of their resilient pioneer spirit. Furthermore, her experiences in Burr Oak were more urban, gritty, even edgy. Although Wilder introduced some adult ideas and themes into her later novels, she waited until the fictional family had moved west once more into Dakota Territory, where her main character was a more mature adolescent. Wilder herself was just nine years old when the family moved to Burr Oak (p. 95, note 99).

I’ve seen some criticism of Laura for leaving out the events that take place in Burr Oak. But I would defend her decision for several reasons. Everything I have read about memoirs and autobiographies says you can’t share everything. She did include this era in her original autobiography. The Little House books were fictionalized, focusing on the life and progress of a pioneer family. The time in Burr Oak might have seemed a stop or even a setback to the action. Plus the family’s proximity to a saloon and the unsavory behavior they saw and heard might not have seemed suitable to an audience of children at the rime she was writing.

Old Town in the Green Groves about Laura Lingalls Wilder's lost yearsBut readers are curious about the “lost years” in the LH narrative. So Cynthia Rylant was asked to write what was known about the family’s story during this period in the style of the LH books. Her book is Old Town in the Green Groves.

The story begins back in Plum Creek, where the family contentedly moved from their winter rental house back to their farm. Baby brother Freddie was born. Ma was severely ill for a while, but recovered. Then the second wave of grasshoppers returned and destroyed everything growing. Pa declared he’d had enough of the “blasted country.” He had debts to pay, and the crop that would have paid them was ruined. Pa sold the farm to pay off the debts and lined up a job at a hotel in Burr Oak in Iowa.

On the way, the family stayed with their aunt and uncle and cousins, Peter and Eliza Ingalls and their children. They helped in various ways around the farm until ready to move on. Sadly, brother Freddie died there.

One chapter describes meeting with a kind beekeeper who was also planning to move since the bees couldn’t thrive without flowers. (Hill’s note on p. 96 of her book says Charles and this beekeeper kept in touch with each other for years).

When they arrived in Burr Oak, they lived above the hotel. Life was hectic: Ma helped with cooking and cleaning, and the girls all had to help, too. The saloon next door was loud, people were constantly coming in and out. Laura missed the quiet of her home and the prairie.

The book goes on to describe the various people they encountered and things that happened in Burr Oak before they decided to head west again.

I think Rylant did a good job. Just glancing over this section again in Pioneer Girl, I can see how Rylant took the narrative and fleshed it out. It’s more or less in the style of the LH books, but it’s not Laura: it couldn’t be.

I was glad to see the illustrations by Jim LaMarche in my library copy were also similar to the Garth William’s illustrations of the Little House.books. Like the words, they were not quite the same, but they seemed a similar style and spirit.

The book cover shown above is the one on my library copy. I’ve seen another illustrated cover here that makes Laura seem a little older and a photographed cover here that I didn’t care for at all.

I share my friend Ann‘s concern over the placement of the book on the back cover. The top says “Read all the Little House books.” The covers of all the books are shown, with this book set in-between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake. I’m assuming this was done to show that the action in this book takes place between those two. But, as fine as this book is, I would regard it as supplemental and wouldn’t include it as part of the set or as one of the LH books.

Though this book describes some of the hard times the family went through, it also shares their resilience and hope. It’s a good story in its own right, but especially for fans of the Little House books.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge Wrap-up for 2019

The end of February closes the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge for this year. I hope you had fun with it, and I look forward to hearing about what you read!

A week from today I’ll use random.org to draw a name from the comments on this post to win either The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker, Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson, The Little House Coloring Book, or a similarly-priced book related to Laura. A week should give some of us who are still reading time to finish up and post about our reading. You don’t have to have a blog to participate: you can tell us what you read in the comments here. If you have a blog, you can either let us know what you read in the comments or share the links back to any reviews or challenge-related posts from your blog or even from Goodreads if you review books there. Due to shipping costs, I’m afraid I can only ship to those in the US, unless you’d like a Kindle version.

For my part, I read:

Fairies

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Fairy Poems, compiled by Stephen W. Hines, illustrated by Richard Hull. I had forgotten that Laura wrote such poems until Rebekah mentioned them. Laura is usually more matter-of-fact than fanciful, though some of her descriptions are lovely. So I was interested to see how she did with fairy poems. Hines provides a brief introduction, telling how Laura came to write the poems for the San Francisco Bulletin. Then he shares an adaptation of an essay Laura wrote called “Fairies Still Appear to Those With Seeing Eyes.”

There are only five poems in the book, spread out over several pages with a number of illustrations. The poems are very old-fashioned, naturally, as they describe the various activities fairies are involved in. I’m not normally into fairy poems, so I don’t know how they would measure up for young readers today.

Honestly, I didn’t care for the illustrations much. I think I would have preferred lighter colors, maybe a watercolor effect. I liked the detail of the plants and animals, but not the fairies and people.

Have you or your children read this book? What did you think?

LIW song book

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook compiled and edited by Eugenia Garson.

The copy I checked out from the library looks like the one above, but I saw other copies on Amazon with a Garth Williams illustration of Pa with his fiddle on the front.

What I appreciated most about this one was Garson’s research. She looked up every song mentioned in the Little House books, provided a few sentences of background for it (when it could be found), and a quote from the LH book where it was mentioned. Sheet music is provided for all the songs, making me wish I could play the piano enough to pick out the tunes. I was familiar with just a few of them. This would be a nice resource for anyone wanting to learn more about music from this era.

Traveler

I also read On the Way Home and The Road Back by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These two books have been packaged together with West From Home, Laura’s letters to Almanzo while visiting Rose in San Francisco for the World’s Fair, into one volume called A Little House Traveler. Since I had read West From Home a few years ago, I did not read that one at this time. The first is Laura’s record of moving with her husband and daughter by covered wagon from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri; the second is her journal of traveling back to South Dakota to visit her two remaining sisters 40 years later in an un-air-conditioned Buick. I reviewed them here.

I also wrote Why Laura Ingalls Wilder Is Still Worth Reading because some question whether she is any more. No, she and her family were not perfect. But we can still learn from them.

That’s it for me. How about you? Remember, leave a comment on this post about what you read or did for the challenge before Thursday of next week to be eligible for the drawing.

Update: The giveaway is closed. The winner is Rebekah! Congratulations!

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Helen Roseveare: On His Majesty’s Service

Roseveare Helen Roseveare was a missionary to the Belgian Congo in Africa, later named Zaire, from 1953-1973. I first became aware of her through Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God by Noel Piper several years ago. I wanted to read more about her, so when I saw Helen Roseveare: On His Majesty’s Service by Irene Howat on sale for the Kindle app, I decided to try it, even though it was part of the Trailblazer series of biographies for children.

The first few chapters deal with Helen’s childhood in England: terrorizing nannies with her brother, moving several times due to her father’s job, going to boarding school in Wales. She had a strong desire to be first and best at as much as she could, and she didn’t make friends very easily. In a Sunday School class, she decided she wanted to be a missionary even before she became a Christian. Confirmation classes in her church caused her to take a more serious look at herself, but it was in a camp some years later that she became a believer. She became quite conscientious.

As a teenager during WWII, Helen wrestled with the devastation and unfairness of it all, especially the unfitness of young people losing their lives. Once when a German plane was shot down, Helen was horrified to learn that her mother was among the people trying to save the young man, though he later died. Her mother explained that he was just a boy fighting for his country, like their boys, and had a home and family.

Helen became involved in helping at camps and the GCU (Girl Crusader’s Union) while in college. She never lost her desire to be a missionary doctor, and soon after college she went through missionary training and then went to the Congo. She was plunged into medical service right away. From her earliest days she felt the need to train the national workers and open a nursing school. She had to set up a hospital from the ground up, with students and church members and even patients helping.

But civil unrest was rumbling in the distance and drawing ever closer. Helen had opportunity to leave many times, but she felt she should remain. Finally rebel soldiers did take over Helen’s area. Probably because this is a children’s book, the author did not go into much detail or mention the multiple rapes Helen endured. She sums it up this way:

Things too terrible to tell happened to her at the hands of Congolese rebel soldiers, things so horrible and shocking that she wished she were dead. In a way that we cannot understand they were part of God’s plan for her and she knew that, even at the time. With her body battered and broken and her back teeth kicked out, Helen survived when others did not. But she survived to endure further months of terror.

After several months of captivity and cruelty, Helen and a few others were released and sent back to England for a long recovery.

After fifteen months, went back to Africa, to Zaire, building more hospitals and training more medical workers.

When Helen went back to England years later, she stayed active speaking at schools, GCU gatherings, and churches. When someone wanted to make a film of her life, she traveled back to a warm welcome in Zaire and was thrilled to see how the work was progressing.

One of the most well-known stories of her life was one I had heard but didn’t realize happened to Helen until I read it in Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God. It’s told in detail here. A woman had come to the hospital in labor with a premature baby. They could not save the woman, but the baby was safely delivered. Yet they had no way to keep the baby warm: they usually used hot water bottles, but were out. The baby also had a two-year-old sister. When Helen had prayer with the orphan children the next day, she told them of the little girl and baby and the need for hot water bottles. One ten-year-old girl named Ruth began to spontaneously pray:

God, please send a hot water bottle so that this little baby doesn’t die. And, God, it will be no use sending it tomorrow because we need it today. And, God, while you’re at it, will you send a dolly for the baby’s sister who is crying because her mummy has died.

Helen “didn’t think the Lord could do that.” But that very afternoon a truck delivered a parcel containing soap, bandages, babe sweaters…and a hot water bottle and a doll! Helen tells this story here:

Since this book was published in 2008, it doesn’t contain information about Helen’s death in 2016 at the age of 91. Zaire is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The writing in this book is not the best: it’s a little choppy, with several odd scenes involving unnamed people that I think were made up in an effort to illustrate something in Helen’s life. But It’s still a good book overall, with a good overview of Helen’s life.

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

 

Laudable Linkage

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Here’s another round of notable reads found recently:

How to Avoid Becoming (Heavenly) Hangry on Vacation.

What Your Child Needs More Than Self-esteem, HT to Story Warren.

A Parent’s Guide to the 5 Skeptics Who Want to Shame Your Kids for Being Christian, HT to Challies.

When You Don’t Enjoy the Little Years. Even though you love your little ones dearly, some days are hard.

Can I Trust God With My Child’s Suffering? HT to True Woman.

How to Bring the (Whole) Bible to Life for Kids, HT to True Woman. Though I chafe at the phrasing of the title (the Bible IS living – John 6:63), I know what the author meant, and there are some great ideas here.

When the Content Police Came for the Babylon Bee, HT to Challies.

Hope for People With Food Allergies, HT to True Woman.

The Real Story of Christopher Robin, HT to Glynn. Sad, but I hope on some level the family retained some joy that the Pooh stories were such a dear part of many people’s childhoods.

Several people have asked me if I’ve heard of the recent ruling to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a literary award. I’m not surprised, especially in today’s climate. There were characterizations and incidents in the books that we cringe at today. But I hope this does not lead to a pulling of her books from shelves or reading lists. We encounter what we would consider wrong attitudes in a number of older books, even classics. If we tossed books that had anything in them we disagreed with – well, we wouldn’t have much left. It takes long years to change cultural thinking. The better way, I believe, is to realize that every person and every generation is a mixture of good and bad and to educate about both sides. A couple of good articles I’ve seen on this are Scrubbing Laura Ingalls Wilder is a Dangerous Step Toward Ignorance (HT to Melanie) and How to really Read Racist Books to Your Kids, (HT to 19th Century Classic Children’s Books You Might Have Overlooked, which I found through Story Warren). I wouldn’t agree with every point in the latter (mainly the evolutionary lens), but both articles make good points.

I usually like to close these posts with a funny or thoughtful picture or meme – but I don’t have one handy and need to get on to today’s tasks, so I’ll wish you a Happy Saturday!

Book Review: Invincible Louisa

AlcottI had not heard of Invincible Louisa, a Newberry medal-winning biography of Louisa May Alcott by Cornelia Meigs, until I saw Tarissa’s review of it last year. I found a Kindle version and saved it for this year’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge.Even though the book was written for children in 1933, I found it immensely readable.

Louisa was born the second of four daughters to Bronson and Abigail (called Abba here, Abby in other sources) Alcott. In some ways Bronson was ahead of his time. He was an abolitionist when such a stance was not popular, helped runaway slaves, and even enrolled a black girl in one of his schools, refusing to dismiss her despite protests which led to parents pulling their children out of the school, which led to the school’s closing. He had some forward-thinking practices in his schools, but also some controversial methods. On the other hand, he was more of an impractical thinker/dreamer/philosopher (“He once said that the sort of life which would satisfy him completely was to walk through the world all of his days, stopping to have conversations with people by the way”). He tried to start a Transcendental community with friends, but it failed. He very nearly joined a Shaker community which would have required him to leave his family. “In the first twenty-eight years of Louisa’s life, this household was to achieve the record of twenty-nine moves.” Though he worked hard, he could never manage to support his family very well. One family story tells of a friend giving the family a load of firewood. A poor man with a sick baby and no fuel came to Bronson, who gave the man all he needed and helped him take it home. Abba reminded him of his own baby and the need for fuel in the harsh, cold weather. Then another neighbor, unaware that someone else had helped the Alcotts with fire wood, brought them a load.

Abigail was industrious and practical. She was also more spirited. “Abba was a person of varying moods: excitable, quickly moved, always devoted to them all, but often too harrowingly uneasy concerning the family welfare to be entirely calm.”

The couple had four daughters in all, plus a son who did not live. Anna and Elizabeth were more like their father in temperament; Louisa and May took after their mother. But all the children learned industriousness, frugality, and generosity. “They were all of them generous to the utmost degree, so that it was by Abba Alcott’s consent, as well as by Bronson’s and the three girls’, that they habitually gave away everything that could, or could not, be spared.” “It was one of the Alcott beliefs that no matter how poor a person is he or she always had something which could be given away.”

Because the family’s financial situation was always so precarious, Louisa felt burdened to help as much as she could. She sewed, taught, worked as a governess, and did whatever came to hand. She wrote stories and sold them here and there. Family friends were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, so Louisa grew up under their influence and example. “To Louisa [Emerson] gave the freedom of his library and all that went with such a privilege.” “All their lives the members of this haphazard family were singularly lucky in friends, in people who appreciated and loved them and would do anything in the world for them.”

During the Civil War, Louisa went to Washington to help in a hospital. She sent home letters telling about the hospital itself and stories of the patients she encountered. Some of her letters were published, and people liked them so much that she wrote more and eventually put them into a book called Hospital Sketches, her first real literary success. “Louisa had told of the life with extraordinary effect; for she was not straining after romance now, but had given the truth simply, graphically, and with great spirit.” She caught typhoid fever, had to be taken home, faced a long and grueling recovery, and was never quite fully healthy again.

A publisher asked her for a book for girls. Louisa refused at first, saying she liked boys better and wouldn’t know what to write for girls. The publisher kept asking, however, so Louisa wrote some stories based on her own family. Louisa was Jo, Anna was Meg, Elizabeth was Beth, and May was Amy. The publisher was not terribly impressed, but he gave them to some young girls to read–and they loved them.

Several scenes paralleled the Alcott family. Elizabeth really did die of scarlet fever. Louisa did feel that Elizabeth’s death and Anna’s wedding were the beginning of breaking up the sisterhood. But there was no boy next door on whom Laurie was modeled: Louisa based him on a younger man she met while traveling abroad as a paid companion to an invalid girl. Some sources say there was a romance; this book says Louisa thought he would be better for May and hoped they would meet. Louisa herself never married, saying she would “rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe.”

The success of Little Woman and Louisa’s subsequent books helped the family finally get on a solid financial footing. Although “Louisa never could quite put aside her taste for startling events and her love for writing tales which bordered on the fantastic,” “she had begun to see her work in its proper light; she understood also that [the more realistic] stories were needed for young readers instead of the sentimental and tragic tales with which their minds were usually fed.”

I had known a little bit about Louisa’s life, but I enjoyed learning more through this book.

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

Laudable Linkage

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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: