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May / June 2013

Childrenâ€&#x;s Literature


“When you read a book as a child, it becomes part of your identity in a way no other reading in your whole life does.” This is the speech an impassioned Kathleen Kelley gives Joe Fox in the romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail. How true it is! The books we read as children shape our imaginations, set trends for our future when it comes to literature, strengthens our vocabularies, and hopefully teaches us to aspire to the same heroism and greatness of literature‟s many young protagonists. Inevitably, what we read as a child also lives on with us into adulthood, and these stories are beloved to us all our lives. For me, that was Narnia. I grew up on C.S. Lewis and while I‟ve loved many a book since, none hold that special place in my heart reserved for the land of the lamp post, under the guidance of the benevolent (but also at times frightening) Lord Aslan, a great lion (but not a tame lion!)

Writing for children is different from aiming a book at a young adult or even older audience. The best children‟s authors don‟t “speak down” to their reader, or assume they‟re too young to learn important things. Some authors, such as J.K. Rowling and Patricia St. John, do this very well. Others subtly infuse their tales with lessons of loyalty, honor, forgiveness, loss, and dawning maturity. Louisa May Alcott and Lucy Maud Montgomery introduced us to spunky female heroines, while male authors like Stephen Bly took boys and girls for a trip into the wild west. Covering all children‟s literature in one issue of Femnista would be utterly impossible, so we‟re sharing the ones with you that made the most difference in our lives in some way or another. Yet, there are many more wonderful

children‟s books that aren‟t covered in these pages… like Patricia St. John, a missionaryturned writer whose stories contain touching elements of faith, as well as lessons on forgiveness and redemption. Many of her tales have children struggling to overcome “big” things… like the little boy whose sister is blind. He takes her away from their cruel father figure, so she won‟t have to beg in the street. Or what about the hero of The Runaway, a boy whose sister is demon-

possessed, who must face his own resentment and bitterness when he comes into contact with the Messiah? You see, Biblical-based stories aren‟t just for adults! Whether the tales in these pages are new to your eyes or fond old favorites, may they bless you, fill you with joy, and remind you that above all things, as Jesus understood, all children are precious. —Charity Bishop


Happy Birthday! 4

Ballet Shoes


Black Beauty

8 My Father’s Dragon 10 Harry Potter 12 The Oz Books 14 The Secret Garden 16 Louisa May Alcott 18 Nathan T. Riggins 20 Anne of Green Gables

Charity: May 3 Christy: May 5 Jeanna Marie: May 6

22 Chronicles of Narnia

Hannah G: May 7

24 The Witches

Rissi: June 20

25 Bridge to Terebithia 26 Crusade in Jeans 28 Little Women 30 The Melendys 31 Caddie Woodlawn 33 Cat Royal 34 Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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“Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are not really sisters, but they have been brought up together like one family.” So begins one of my favorite childhood series. From this matter-of-fact opening, Noel Streatfeild‟s Ballet Shoes goes on to tell a simple but absorbing tale of three orphans adopted by an elderly man and looked after by his niece, Sylvia. It‟s the sort of fairytale beginning that makes you think that anything might happen. What does happen is that “their guardian got poor,” and “somebody suggested that children can help when people are poor.” So the three children are trained for the stage. The story goes on to demonstrate that in matters like these, the distance between now and 1937, when Ballet Shoes was written, could not possibly be greater.

Today, when we think of children going to work in the entertainment industry to make money for their families, we think about exploitation, unfairness, children turning into adults far too soon, and writing seedy tell-all books. We think of

loving and protective, as well as sticklers for things like education, routine, and manners. Everyone is willing and eager to pitch in and keep the household going. The girls learn at an early age to be savvy about earning and saving money (or at least the

JonBenét Ramsey, Dance Moms and all sorts of unpleasantness.

older two do; Posy is so focused on ballet that she scarcely seems to notice that money, or anything else, exists). Interestingly, it never really feels like they‟re taking on too much or growing up too fast, perhaps because, for all their financial and theatrical expertise, they‟re encouraged to remain children in other ways.

But Ballet Shoes is in another world, and a refreshing one. The children have been well brought up and take a sensible, stiff-upper-lip sort of attitude toward matters like poverty and work. Their guardian, Sylvia, and their Nana are

As for the stage training, it‟s utterly fascinating to read about. This is serious stuff—the girls are learning to recite Shakespeare and dance on pointe before they even hit puberty. It‟s hard work, but it‟s also fun and exciting—at least for Pauline and Posy, who turn out to be exceptionally gifted at acting and dancing respectively. Petrova‟s interests lie elsewhere, and her career takes a twist that shows that Streatfeild, much as she loved the theater world, recognized that it wasn‟t for everyone. After Ballet Shoes, Streatfeild went on to write many similarly themed books in the Shoes series, each featuring different characters (though the Fossil girls, now adults, would pop up again here and there). Some were set in the same theater world


as Ballet Shoes, while others were set in the film world, the figure skating world, the circus world, even the tennis world. Many were given titles without “Shoes” in them, and then later republished and re-titled —for instance, The Painted Garden became Movie Shoes, and White Boots became Skating Shoes. Clearly some of these new titles were an awkward fit, but they helped to bind the books together as a coherent series in readers‟ eyes. Sometimes Streatfeild varied the formula a little bit: in Family Shoes and New Shoes, a vicar‟s family is featured with only one child, Jane, seriously involved in the arts. But all the books portray close, talented, hardworking families. And there‟s always as much emphasis on the development of good character as in there is on developing one‟s talents. Almost the worst thing that can happen to a Streatfeild character is to become conceited and start displaying selfcentered, unprofessional behavior. When Pauline in Ballet Shoes gets too big for her britches and starts ordering her understudy around, or Nicky in Tennis Shoes throws a fit of temper on the tennis court, the consequences are serious

and immediate. Neither their parents nor their teachers nor their colleagues have any time for such nonsense, and the offending child is swiftly and surely brought back into line. And crucial lessons are learned. When Pauline has to apologize to the managing director of the theater for her rudeness, he kindly explains to her that “doing nicely in a part always went to an actress‟s head to begin with. It was a

good thing to get that sort of thing over at twelve, instead of waiting till she was grown-up.” As I indicated earlier, it‟s all quite refreshing. Any child interested in the arts or even just in reading about them, should be introduced to Streatfeild‟s Shoes series. It‟s a wonderful way to explore what truly matters about that world: not the glamour or the gossip, but

the creativity, talent, and the discipline required, as well as the need for good relationships that can help keep one grounded. And though so much has changed since those more innocent days, these things still are, and always will be, important. ♥


They say a horse is just a horse. Is that an accurate statement? Does a horse just plod through the grass eating apples with nary a thought in his head? Every time I read Anna Sewell‟s book Black Beauty my imagination runs wild. Maybe horses do think and feel! Maybe they are “talking” animals ala Doctor Doolittle! Perhaps that is why the story of Black Beauty is primarily read by children— as adults, we are jaded; we don‟t believe in fantasy. We don‟t think animals have emotions, feelings, and stories to tell. We refuse to believe anything that isn‟t realistic to ordinary life. I‟ll never forget my first foray into Black Beauty‟s world. I was a girl about eight years old when I heard the voice of Alan Cumming come on my screen. I know, I know. I didn‟t read the book first; yes, it‟s a problem. But I

watched the story of a horse being born and trained and in the care of an amazing family. I loved Merrylegs and Ginger, the two horses Beauty meets at Squire Gordon‟s estate. I cried when they separated and Beauty went to live with,

in my words, “the snobby lady who only cared about looks.” I was happy when Beauty found his way to Jerry, the London cabby, for he took care of Beauty regardless of his meager provisions. I cried when Ginger died and Beauty had to become a work horse. However, when Joe Green (the groom from Squire Gordon‟s

estate) found Beauty again and took the tired, worn down horse into a loving home once again I was so happy with the story. It might have not been in a novel form, but I felt real emotions. I cried real tears. I also wanted to buy a horse

and call it Fitzwilliam after my other literary obsession. But Mom and Dad rebuffed that idea, so reading Black Beauty was as close as I could get to my dream; I lived vicariously through the movie. Then I read the book and wow, I felt even more part of the story. Black Beauty is a story where

even more things transpire for this horse with additional new characters and varied experiences. It was a story I felt connected to; I was invested in it. It did for me what every classic novel I‟d read up to that point had done. But I got older and Black Beauty found its way onto my book shelf, allowing dust to settle on its pages. It wasn‟t until I wrote this article that I reread it again and saw things in a different light than I had before. Beauty is not just a horse. There are stories he‟s trying to tell; lessons about human nature he wants to impart to anyone who will listen and learn from them. After all, Beauty says “there is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and


beast, it is all a sham.” Character lessons can always be found in whatever we read, see and do, and anyone can be “God‟s instruments,” if only we allow it. It doesn‟t mean we make idols out of certain things or worship cows or horses. Not by a long shot. But we can learn and study. Black Beauty is about love. Everyone wants love and good treatment, even a black horse with a white star on his forehead. In the beginning Beauty has that with Joe Green and Squire Gordon. He has a home with warm blankets, room to run, and good food, and friends in Merrylegs the pony, and Ginger the spirited horse. All are treated right and love their masters faithfully. There‟s evidence of that when Beauty saves his master from stepping onto an unsafe bridge.

But bad things happen. Beauty can‟t stay with the Gordons forever. He has to go to a home that treats him horribly for showmanship‟s sake. He is broken and bruised, yet in the end, a certain scripture comes to mind. Matthew 25:35-36 says,

people: those who take care and those who tear down. You‟ll always encounter both. You can also be seen as one or the other, the good or the bad. Which is it going to be? Black Beauty is a study

better results when you treat man or beast well. Ginger has a rougher beginning than Beauty because she isn‟t respected. She dies because to her cabby, she‟s just the means to a paycheck. Is that any way to treat people—or be treated yourself? The list goes on and on. Black Beauty might be a children‟s storybook character meant to entertain but he‟s so much more for me. Beauty makes me flash back to my childhood and the good memories of

“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me.” Beauty shows the reader there are two types of

also in respect. Men like Squire Gordon and Jerry Barker treat him like he‟s more than chattel. But then there‟s the ruthless man who makes Beauty run without a horseshoe. There are those who push Beauty too hard up too many hills. To them, Beauty is a thing, something not valued or appreciated. Yet, you get

entertainment. He makes me think ahead to the future and how I want to put certain traits into practice. That‟s what a good person or character is supposed to do. So for me, a horse can be more than a horse, of course, of course! ♥


One cold rainy day when my father was a little boy, he met an old alley cat on his street. The cat was very drippy and uncomfortable so my father said, “Would you like to come home with me?” So the adventure begins in the Ruth Stiles Gannett classic My Father’s Dragon, the first of a trilogy in this delightfully playful tale of a small boy‟s trip to a jungle island bristling with wild beasts to rescue a captured and overworked dragon. When I began to homeschool my children in the early 1990s, I leaned toward a literature based curriculum. My Father’s Dragon was the first favorite book that we discovered during our beginning year. The creative storyline, cliffhanger chapter endings and atypical characters left them longing for more. It‟s a humorous book composed of ten easy to read chapters and filled with black and white shaded pictures. A casual flip through it will give any reader the impression that silliness abounds, and it does in the most pleasant way. His father, Elmer Elevator

(what a name!), meets a cat, runs away, finds an island and a river, meets some tigers, a rhinoceros, lion, and gorilla, makes a bridge and finally finds the dragon. The animals speak and have human emotions. The boy runs

the Island of Tangerina, across from the mostly jungle Wild Island. The cat says something he saw there made him want to weep. So ends chapter one with every reader dying to know what made the cat want to weep. This is the

easy to get our children to bed at night.) The cat explains to Elmer that one day a baby dragon fell from a lowflying cloud onto the river bank of Wild Island and was injured so he couldn‟t fly back up. The lazy animals that didn‟t like having to go around the island to cross the river decided to tie a big rope to the dragon‟s neck and make him taxi them across the river. The cat encourages the boy to go rescue the dragon because the animals mistreat him by twisting his wings and beating him if he complains. Refreshingly, this book has no agenda of teaching the evils of man not taking care of the environment or animals. The little boy‟s tender heart agrees with the “morality” of the wise old cat and embraces the challenging adventure offered to him.

away after his mother chides him for feeding a stray cat and continuing to feed it even after she told him not to it. When he runs away, the old cat (quite a traveler in his days) tells the boy about

wonderful style of this engaging children‟s book. I can imagine a parent reading a chapter a night, thereby having their children running to bed at night to hear the next chapter! (Oh, if it was so

So you get a flavor of the book I thought I‟d share a glimpse of Elmer‟s encounter with a mouse: “Queer, queer, what a dear little dock! I mean, dear, dear, what a queer little rock!” My father saw a tiny


paw rubbing his knapsack. He lay very still and the mouse, for it was a mouse, hurried away muttering to itself, “ I must smell tumduddy. I mean, I must tell somebody.” I love the childish turn of words and the silliness of the funny little mouse. This is one of multitudes of encounters to happen to the little boy all through the book. As he meets animals who often want to eat him, he learns how to cunningly distract them by helping them with a problem they have. He gives the rhino a toothbrush and paste to shine up his tusk that has “turned nasty yellow-gray” in his old age and which he finds “very ugly.” He gives the lion a comb,

brush and seven hair ribbons of different colors to fashion his mane that the lion says is “a dreadful mess” and he doesn‟t “seem to be able to do anything about it.” He needs to get it clean because his mother is coming by that day and might not give him his allowance since she “can‟t stand messy manes!” I‟m not going to tell you the end of the story. You will have to decide for yourself if it sounds interesting enough to read. But I will end with a comment on warnings that some Christian families have against fictional characters like dragons, which I will tell you immediately that I don‟t hold because I fully

understand that fiction is make-believe and, therefore, it doesn‟t in any way challenge my nonfiction beliefs in God and His Word. In the Christian homeschooling era of two decades ago, parents and faith-based reading curriculum worried so much about classifying good and bad, dragons fell among the bad, along with witches, brews, magicians and wizards. Being a conservative Christian, I was stepping out of the safe realm of solidly known to be “good” in opening the cover of the book, My Father’s Dragon. Yet, my truthseeking open-mindedness paved the way for my family to give it a chance

before I dumped it into the bad, spiritually-unhealthy pile of books. I simply hate to judge a book by its cover (or title, as this case happens to be), the same way I don‟t like to make a judgment on a person by their looks or a bad first impression. As you can see, I‟m very glad I did open up this book and read it from beginning to end. I highly recommend it for other families looking for an irresistible adventure story. My Father’s Dragon is a Newbery Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book. It was first published in 1948 and is the first of the Dragon book series which also includes, Elmer and The Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland. ♥


According to British author J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter was an idea floating on a train. She certainly didn‟t expect her series about a boy wizard to become a phenomenon but after reading the books, it‟s not difficult to see why it‟s become the best-selling series of the 21st century. It‟s unique in that many of its readers grew up right along with the hero! They started in grade school when the first book was released and finished as young adults. Rowling‟s books reflect that increasing sense of selfawareness, realization that life is precious and doesn‟t revolve around you, and awareness of death that all children face as they grow up. For an adult, it‟s a charming look on innocence and childhood; for a child, a gradual introduction to life and death through magical experiences. Like many other good

children‟s authors, Rowling doesn‟t shy away from mature and serious topics such as racism, genocide, evil in all its forms (from petty bullies like Draco to the death-dealing Voldemort, to the cold, abusive, controlling

Delores Umbridge), and death. From the beginning, death is present in the story; Harry‟s parents die protecting him from a murderous adversary. Gradually, Rowling lets her reader experience loss through death, first in a classmate, then in a mentor, and finally in

beloved characters and friends. In the process, the reader slowly comes to understand that good things are worth fighting for, even if it means giving up your life… as Harry does in the last book when he exchanges his life for everyone

else‟s, fully fulfilling the series‟ ongoing scriptural principle of sacrificial love overcoming death. Controversy rages over the messages of the books; critics are quick to condemn the habitual lies and rule-breaking of its main characters (while overlooking the serious consequences)

while many religious groups express concern over the magic. But Rowling famously said she can‟t enter a room with a Narnia book in it without picking it up and reading it. And her books do contain many “Narnian” tributes and parallels, from the red and gold lion emblem of Gryffindor (Aslan) to a sacrificial death that leads to Harry Potter‟s resurrection. Hogwarts isn‟t a unique idea, but her approach to the magical world is full of such creativity and enthusiasm that it draws her readers in and makes them truly excited to meet her remarkable cast of characters. From the mysterious, sinister Professor Snape, who begins the series seen through the eyes of the children as a force of evil and by the end is revealed to be a hero, to the plucky know-it-all


Hermione and her busy hair, to Neville and his exploding plants, to the redheaded Ron and his troublemaking older twin brothers, to Harry himself, once we know them, we never want to forget them. The formula for each installment is simple to the very end, yet the author‟s cleverness keeps us reading and rereading. She plants small seeds in earlier books that point to big revelations later on. Not all her ideas work, and the stories can be tedious in places, but throughout is a funny, wonderful blend of mythology, tongue in cheek references to European history (like the witch who had herself burned at the stake hundreds of times, for fun), and charm that lingers with us long after we turn off the light and dream of flying post-it notes in the Ministry of Magic. I was an adult before I first went to Hogwarts. Like many others, I was curious about the books that created such a fuss in the Christian community. I never imagined they‟d define

my young adult years in such significant ways, or that I‟d come to love them more than almost any other book series. I became a “Potterhead” four books in, which let me spend many hours with friends debating unanswered questions, fearing who might not

make it to the last chapter, and awaiting future novels. My experience taught me that you‟re never too old to open a book “written for children.” C.S. Lewis, her inspiration, understood that, and Rowling does too. And it‟s comforting to think,

as Rowling says, that no matter what, “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” ♥


One of my first introductions to fantasy was a little girl and her three friends skipping down a yellow brick road in a strange, colorful land called Oz. That little girl was played by Judy Garland, and my only image of Oz stemmed from the colorful spectacle of the 1939 film extravaganza that is now so beloved by numerous generations. It was only recently that I read the book for the first time. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a triumph of L. Frank Baum‟s imaginative design. The film itself is amazing and is a staple in many families, introduced to their children at a young age, the same as it was with me. But the books… well, they‟re a horse of a different color. For one thing, Glinda is not the elegant woman draped in pink tulle and chiffon, tall and regal.

She‟s tiny, almost the size of a munchkin, and garbed in silver. She rules the land of the Quadlings in the South Country, not being the Witch of the North as the film portrays her. Dorothy‟s shoes are silver instead of ruby, a

change made by the filmmakers because they wanted color. The Emerald City is possibly not emerald at all, but only green in appearance because of green spectacles all of the inhabitants and visitors (who must wear them before entering the city). To say nothing of the Tin Woodman, who is made of tin because he lost his

appendages in freak accidents and had a tinsmith craft him new limbs. In other words, nothing is as it seems. In order to command the flying monkeys, the Witch of the West must put on a

golden cap and say a spell, and she may only command them three times before the magic is used up and the cap must pass to someone else. Dorothy‟s escape from her is not nearly as dramatic as the film‟s portrayal. In fact, sweet Dorothy reacts angrily when the Witch steals one of her silver shoes and dashes a bucket of

water on her, never realizing it‟s the Witch‟s only weakness as she begins to melt. Oz isn‟t a traveling salesman (or con-man, depending on your point of view); he‟s a humble balloonist for the circus and there is no evil school teacher who wants to take Toto away from Dorothy in Kansas. At first, it felt like a little bubble had burst. I had no idea the film-makers had altered the story so extremely, making it palatable for audiences of the 1930s. There is something special about the film, and I didn‟t want that adoration to be stolen from me because Baum‟s stories were so different. Yet, it‟s the differences that ultimately make both book and film so precious. The novel, written in 1900, touched the lives and hearts of children so deeply that they pleaded with Baum


to write another book, which he finally did in 1904, The Marvelous Land of Oz, which then began a magnificent journey that spanned the rest of his life until his death in 1919. The books are different, but they‟re beloved by readers everywhere. It doesn‟t make the film any less dynamic or valued by audiences, but the books are Baum‟s work while the film is the work of the screenwriters and directors. Once that dawned on me, I delved heart-first into the world Baum created. Fantasy stories are my life‟s blood, particularly ones of vast imagination. A creature fashioned of sofas, palm-tree leaves, and the enormous stuffed head of a Gump is sprinkled with powder and comes alive? An entire land and its inhabitants are made of the finest porcelain, and if someone breaks they merely glue him/her together again? How about a tree that grows lunch-pails? Then there‟s the color-coded country itself whose grass turns blue in the land of the Munchkins! If anything were to be described as

mind-boggling, this would fit the bill. Baum‟s world is gaining popularity again, not that it ever really lost it, but it saddens me just a little to realize that people don‟t completely understand the real Land of Oz. In some ways, Baum‟s world is more extreme, more frightening and brutal than the whitewashed display of the cinema but is that so wrong? I love Dorothy‟s ruby slippers. I own a pair, bow and all, and when I put them on I can‟t help clicking my heels three times. Yet the sweet little girl in Baum‟s story merely begs as she claps the heels of her shoes together, “Take me home to Aunt Em.” Such innocent pleading, and she carries out her wish

with no help from Glinda who doesn‟t need to wave her magic wand to give Dorothy an assist home. After everything Dorothy experienced, her one desire was to return, not just home, but specifically into the arms of her beloved Aunt Em. No matter how many adventures I may take in life, I understand a desire to go home. Whenever I travel or go several days without seeing my family I don‟t picture the house in which I live, but rather the family that makes it a home. It is the same with Dorothy, so I empathize with her plight, being such a little lost girl so very, very far from home with only a little dog named Toto to remind her of Kansas. I

always want to feel that desire to return to the love and warmth of my family, and that feeling is what makes me cheer when Dorothy finally runs into Aunt Em‟s arms. In Baum‟s story, the Land of Oz is real and not a dream, so when she wakes, Dorothy is on the prairie and must run home. There‟s no doubt that Dorothy‟s tale is the truth. These books are fun and terrifying and just a little crazy which is what makes them some of the best children‟s fantasy ever written. ♥


C. S. Lewis said “no book is really worth reading at the age of ten, which is not equally—and often far more—worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” There are several classics I enjoyed as a child, yet love even more as an adult. One such story is The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Published in 1911, this sweet story came into my life when I was in the 4th grade. Despite being all about Nancy Drew at that time, something about The Secret Garden drew me like a magnet. I couldn‟t put it down, and devoured it five or six times in the next couple of years. As beloved as the story was to me, it was over three decades before I lost myself in it once more, but when I did (as a 40-ish woman) I was no less enthralled than I was all those years before. The Secret Garden is not just a children‟s story, but speaks to the heart of adults as well.

Stockwell, with Gladys Cooper, Elsa Lanchester, Brian Roper and Reginald Owen in supporting roles, the film “married” two of my great loves—the beautiful story of The Secret Garden and those wonderful oldie-goldie films. Although primarily in black and white, there are a few color scenes at appropriate times.

Loving this precious story as I do, I was over-themoon excited to discover, a few years ago, the 1949 film adaption. Starring Margaret O‟Brien, Herbert Marshall, and Dean

A bratty, spoiled child, used to being waited on hand and foot, the little girl is met at the station not by her uncle, but by his housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock. Upon reaching

Set when India was a British colony, Mary Lennox is orphaned after her parents succumb to a cholera epidemic raging across the country. With her uncle, Archibald Craven, willing to take her into his home, Mary departs India and all she has known to begin a new life in the Yorkshire countryside.

the 100-room mansion which will now be her home, Mary discovers her uncle has no wish to see her; instead, she‟s taken to her rooms and informed that this is where she is to spend most of her time… with the exception of the kitchen, the remainder of

the house is off-limits. When Mary does finally meet with her uncle, no love or warmth is extended towards her. Mr. Craven informs his ward that he drinks and keeps to himself and spends as little time at home as possible. In fact, he‟ll be leaving again in the morning. When Mary

inquires about the portrait in his study, she learns his beloved wife died ten years earlier, but no additional information is offered. Her first night, Mary is awoken by screams from somewhere in the house. Her curiosity aroused, she questions Mrs. Medlock. Insisting it was only the wind coming off the moors, Mrs. Medlock evades her question; this naturally causes Mary to try to pry the information from one of the maids. Although told the cries were from a toothache-stricken scullery maid, Mary isn‟t satisfied and through her investigation discovers in another wing of the massive house a young, bed-bound boy about her age. The boy, who is as temperamental and selfish as Mary, is Mr. Craven‟s son, Colin; unable to walk, Colin has braces on his legs… a circumstance he uses to his full advantage, as he manipulates the servants of the household to do his bidding. Convinced he is actually


dying, the demanding young raja (as Mary dubs him) dissolves into fits of temper and screaming every time his wishes are thwarted. He‟s met his match in his cousin, though, for Mary has no intention of coddling and babying him. Having been told that she is unattractive and far too thin and that fresh air and exercise will be good for her, Mary sets out to explore the estate‟s gardens with her maid‟s brother, Diggen. There, Mary discovers a walled courtyard, which immediately captivates her. Questioning the gardener about it, she learns the place has been locked up for ten years. While there may be a connection between the locking of the courtyard and the death of her aunt, Mary isn‟t entirely certain. Though she longs to enter and looks for a way inside, she‟s at first unsuccessful; but a regular visitor atop the garden wall is a raven, and while digging for worms, he leads Mary to the long-buried key, making it possible for her and Diggen to unlock the heavy iron door and enter into their own secret world.

Years of neglect left the garden in disarray, but the two children can well imagine what a little TLC could do to transform it. With the idea of making the garden as lovely as it used to be, Mary and Diggen spend their days tending it; feeling Colin would thrive in the peace and beauty of it, they invite him to accompany them on their daily treks. Before long, not only have the children transformed the garden, but Mary and Colin find themselves transformed as well. How and in what ways play out in the rest of the story. While this film adaption of The Secret Garden isn‟t quite on par with Mrs. Burnett‟s story, it is well worth watching. It‟s a very sweet tale, clearly depicting the healthful qualities of fresh air, sunshine, a bit of dirt, and hard work. Margaret

O‟Brien is terrific in the role of Mary, and Dean Stockwell is adorable as Colin. The two child stars have a great rapport with one another, and I got a huge chuckle out of their “joint temper tantrum.” I found myself wondering how many takes it took to shoot that scene, with both children no doubt dissolving into fits of laughter as they sought to outdo each other. While Elsa Lanchester‟s continual giggle is annoying, she‟s otherwise

delightful as the maid. Gladys Cooper was perfectly cast as Mrs. Medlock, as was Brian Roper as Diggen. As a Herbert Marshall fan, I loved him in this role. All in all, 1949‟s The Secret Garden is a lovely, enjoyable film bound to bring a few tears to the eyes. If you cherish the book, you‟ll certainly want to give it a try. ♥


Louisa May Alcott never wrote without intent; her stories were vignettes: patched together into a quilt designed to provide her young readers with amusement while teaching them about morality, building their characters and speaking to their developing consciences. Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom both begin with a dedication to her readers: bridging the gap between storyteller and listener and establishing warmth and friendship with her young audience as a voice of assistance, helpful criticism, altruism and instruction. In the popular 19th Century trope of adding a preluding note to the reader, Alcott uses the beginning of Eight Cousins to cite Alec Campbell‟s experiments: carefully constructed for his impressionable niece and refers to her work in the same novel as a type of experiment, suggestive of character building and amusement rather than the educational improvements one might expect of adults. In short, Alcott tells stories of young readers for young

readers—dividing the publishing line—writing specifically and blatantly in the tradition of instructive Horn books and other original tales penned specifically for young minds. Rather

than condescend to her readers, instead she threads an immediate connection and builds rapport. The Sunday School morality tales that precede her in the

history of Children‟s Literature don‟t often allow for such easy camaraderie. One of the many ways Alcott achieves this is to speak to children on

their own level. Rose and her clan of raucous boy cousins are flawed and boisterous children who enjoy the songs, games and antics readers of Alcott‟s era would find

familiar. But, into this, she inserts a stronger message borne of her own convictions and her heritage as the daughter of strong-willed Bronson Alcott, acquaintance of Thoreau and a founding member of the Transcendalist religion in Massachusetts. Indeed, Alec Campbell, Rose‟s smart and outgoing boyish uncle, factors as a filter for many of Alcott‟s own views: especially as pertains to women‟s education and equality and the exploration and dissension of cultural norms of the time—such as corsets and high teas. Alec is an explorer enamored with many cultures, a ship‟s surgeon entrusted with Rose as guardian when her father dies. Rose‟s aunts are unsure of his influence as a bachelor doctor; he has little experience with children and several years of sea under his belt; but Alec wants to honor his promise and try his hand at parenting …through original methods. Unlike Rose‟s dainty aunts at the Aunt Hill,


Alec believes in equality for Rose: that she should run, play and frolic in the manner of her seven boy cousins and undertake any learning and ongoing instruction they receive. Housework and domestic skills are also important for a young lady, Alec believes, but never at the sacrifice of the three R‟s and medical and biological knowledge. Very advanced teaching for a girl of her age and circumstance! Alec is also determined that his niece be seen as more than a wealthy heiress—she must marry and acquire friends as bespeaks her learning, development of character and independence as a well-rounded woman. One way he accomplishes this is to figuratively and literally dispose of the corset and binding in her restrictive wardrobe: opting instead for clothes sensible and open to fresh air and running. A little shocking to mothers reading Alcott‟s words aloud to their little girls, certainly, but also a little eye-opening too. Alec also proves social boundaries are made to

be broken in his encouragement of Rose‟s friendship with (and his eventual adoption of) the housemaid Phebe. Her selfless productivity sets a wonderful example for Rose and Rose‟s fondness for her company, despite her social status secures Alec‟s belief that the two are perfect friends. In the second novel, after a long tour of Europe, many of the life-lessons in Rose‟s upbringing have been learned. Rose in Bloom, thus, centers on Rose‟s coming of age, coming into her inheritance, and experiencing the first bliss and first heartache of love. Alec is still given to experiments: letting Rose experience the social season, knowing full-well the whirlwind will tire her, and allowing her to pursue suitors who will nevertheless disappoint her, confident the seeds he sewed in formative years will lead

her to make good decisions. Rose faces disillusionment, loss, and heartache, but the moral compass built under her Uncle‟s steering leads her into a happy future. Alcott excelled at understanding a child‟s world and developing immediate rapport with her readers. After establishing a kind,

authoritative voice, she was able to speak to them directly, encourage them to listen to their budding consciences and strive to emulate the right and moral decisions embellished in her fun, humorous, entertaining and, yes, even educational tales. ♥


Dedicated to the memory of author Stephen Bly, the most honest and true Christian Western author I’ve ever read. The world seems far less bright since your radiance has blazed that final trail to heaven. The exhausted boy blurted out the words to the remaining citizen of a ghost town in progress: “Nathan T. Riggins from Indiana, and I’m looking for my parents, David and Adele Riggins. Have you seen them?” The twelve year old, ninety pound Indiana born boy had traveled to northern Nevada looking for his parents following the death of his grandparents. What he found was a world of the Wild West, where dogs didn‟t smile and towns went boom and bust faster than a man could draw his gun. To the outsider, Galena looked like every other mining town, filled with a few saloons, a mercantile, forty-niners and freighters, and rows of dusty tents and milled board buildings. But to

those who delve into author Stephen Bly‟s Nathan T. Riggins Western Adventures, Galena becomes so much more. Children‟s literature is very unique and multifaceted, something I realized when I took a Children’s Literature

the 12/13 age category feel, metaphorically speaking? I know that‟s how I felt, like a fish out of water, close to becoming an adult but not quite there, wanting to be responsible at times but not wanting life to weigh me down with responsibility. All of this and so much more

course in college. True, it can be very simple and formulaic: the hero always wins and the bad guy always loses… or it can be more like what Stephen Bly writes. I first read Nathan T. Riggins as a tweenager and felt strong affinity for the civilization softened boy as he traipsed through the hard biting nature of the late 1800s west. After all, isn‟t that how kids in

seeped out of those slim paperbacks, drawing me into the life of 12 year old Nathan and his parents David and Adele, his new friends Leah Walker and Colin Maddison Jr. (with two dd‟s), and his nosmile Shoshone dog, Tona-we-a. It was like making friends with real people; you laughed at the good times and cried when things were sad, you wanted the bad guys

to be caught and for Nathan to find the loving arms of his folks. Stephen Bly wrote 6 books for the series: The Dog Who Would Not Smile, Coyote True, You Can Always Trust A Spotted Horse, The Last Stubborn Buffalo In Nevada, Never Dance With A Bobcat, and Hawks Don’t Say Goodbye. In each one, Nathan learns or realizes an important truth about life, but the stories are far from formulaic. Sometimes there are no happy endings, just as real life dictates, and Nathan finds this out the hard way. Yet the stories are warm and true at heart. In the first novel Nathan finds friends (and enemies) on the path to locating his parents and discovers the dime novelists weren‟t lying when they called it The Wild West. In Coyote True, the lesson is honest: just as an animal is true to its own nature, be true to yours and God‟s higher calling. Nathan discovers


in the 3rd book that while you can always trust a spotted horse, you can‟t say the same about people, particularly strangers. And in The Last Stubborn Buffalo in Nevada, Nathan accepts responsibility of the famous buffalo Thunder without realizing what caring for a 2,500 pound semi-wild animal entails. Nathan and Tona discover, quite painfully, why you shouldn‟t dance with bobcats in the 5th book and when you need to turn your problems over to the Lord. And in the grand finale, Nathan looks around at the bust cycle of Galena and realizes that while Hawks Don’t Say Goodbye, he‟ll soon have to. Will God give him the strength to do so? Will Nathan lose all his newly found friends? What will happen to Galena? Thankfully, Stephen Bly didn‟t have a habit of leaving things unsaid. He always concluded his stories with a little epilogue that answers all questions satisfactorily. But no cheating and jumping to the end of the series to see what happens to whom! It is well worth the journey

through dusty Nevada, riding alongside Nathan on his spotted horse Onepenny, accompanied by Tona, Leah, and Colin as they test outlaws, the weather, wild animals, and on occasion, each other‟s and their parents patience. These are perfect stories for those tweenage and teenage kids in your life and as an adult I continue to reread and enjoy them. They‟re not like some children‟s stories: forgettable in their simplistic plots and

written just to get a paycheck for the author. Mr. Bly carefully plots out the stories so each book is an adventure of its own, yet as a whole series you can see the growth and maturing of the characters. And they contain side-splitting humor, a motif carried through most, if not all, of the author‟s other books, including those for adults. This is why the Nathan T. Riggins series needs to be written about, so that

the stories can be shared with others. They‟ll lend joy and companionship to readers of all ages, just like they did for me, I guarantee it. So don‟t wait any longer! Hop on the stagecoach and let it roll you onto those dusty streets of Galena in the old Wild West with these first words of the series: “Nathan felt the stagecoach hit something hard and suddenly jerk to the left. Then it settled down to a steady bounce…” ♥


Children are encouraged at a young age to use their imaginations, be “themselves” and “follow their hearts.” But what does that really mean? These ambiguous phrases of supposed insight (often found in popular culture through such sources as Disney) lack substance and do little to actualize dreamfulfilling lives. This isn‟t to say that modern entertainment and morality doesn‟t offer anything positive, but the overarching messages aimed at children are vague at best and selfserving at worst. So, where can good examples offering wisdom and encouragement be found? The best place to start is with parents, grandparents, pastors, youth leaders, mentors and teachers. Another source of teaching and inspiration is in the stories often shared with children. Characters of strong ethics

and their adventures of faith, trial and error, perseverance and personal growth are wonderful ways to learn from example and a child‟s education through stories are often best remembered. One of the most influential books of my childhood was

Anne of Green Gables. Written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and first published in 1908, this book and its subsequent sequels quickly became favorites amongst readers. For generations they stood the test of time and saw a resurgence of popularity in 1985 when Canadian television brought them to

life on the small screen. The story of Anne Shirley and her years growing up on Prince Edward Island is sweet and unpretentious, but the lessons that can be learned from this brighteyed dreamer carry much weight. The Anne of Green Gables

book series is essentially a compilation of small everyday adventures. From her first arrival in Avonlea to her last mention as a happily married mother of seven, Anne‟s life shows how powerful the little things in life can be. Yes, Anne makes a major impact in the lives of many people and affects more

than just her small hometown of Avonlea, but the real heart of these books is Anne herself and the joy she finds in the simple pleasures of normal life. A walk down the lane, a row on the pond or even a morning spent in the garden become momentous occasions when viewed the eyes of a dreamer like Anne Shirley. The power of her imagination takes flight and inspires every person she touches. One of the most memorable scenes in the TV adaption of Anne of Green Gables is a scene where Anne takes a walk with her guardian Marilla Cuthbert, soon after her arrival at Green Gables. Anne‟s desire for a “bosom friend,” “kindred spirits,” and her view of reality tempered with imagination is strange for the straight-laced and grounded Marilla.


“You set your heart too much on silly things,” she tells the redheaded girl. “Don‟t you ever imagine things differently from what they are?” Anne innocently inquires. “No!” Marilla replies, irritated by the perceived foolishness of Anne‟s starry eyed wonder. “Oh Marilla, how much you miss,” Anne replies as takes Marilla‟s hand and they walk down the green lane together. This scene is a beautiful image of why Anne is such a special, inspirational and lovely character. She‟s aware that the world can be a harsh and cruel place, having lived amongst hardened and world-weary people for most of her childhood. But her spirit refuses to be crushed and rises “on wings of anticipation.” She doesn‟t view the world through the lens of imagination solely as a means of escape from her difficult circumstances, although that certainly plays a part in her mental development. Rather, Anne most often tempers reality with creativity because she wants to see the world as a better place and when she chooses to

see things in a fresh and positive light the world she inhabits becomes enjoyable and exciting. This painting-over of reality with the colors of imagination stays with Anne as she grows, but the starry eyed dreaming she does as a child alters as she matures into an adult and must learn to tell the difference between friendship and love, bear the weight of responsibility, and has to deal with a cynical world. Anne‟s fantasies and ideals melt away as she experiences life firsthand away from the golden world she fashioned at Green Gables. Most importantly, she comes to realize her romantic ideal of “tall, dark, rich and melancholy” is keeping her

from seeing the true love right in front of her in childhood friend Gilbert Blythe. Thankfully, Anne learns to balance reality with fantasy. She chooses to make the world a better place by coaxing imagination and joy out of others. Anne Shirley didn‟t have positive adult role models as a child; neither was she encouraged to follow her heart, live her dreams, be herself and use her imagination. She does all these things not because it‟s the popular thing to do or because she‟s selfcentered and determined to have her way; it‟s Anne‟s natural tendency to be creative, dreamy, ambitious and positive, but she also gives it effort. She has to work hard at being

joyful despite her sad beginning but ultimately her cheerful spirit touches everyone around her and helps them grow just as much as Anne herself. She succeeds in life because she builds her dreams from the ground up through hard work, determination, unfailing perseverance and a desire to better the lives of others. Instead of the vague saying, “Follow your dreams,” in Anne we‟re shown how she does just that. We‟re given an example that can encourage us and bring a smile to our faces as we watch a little freckled redhead rise from an impoverished orphan to a leading member of her community, and more importantly, a gift to all who know her. ♥


All my life, I‟ve recalled my summers by what I read. Every summer has its own “theme.” When I was seven it was Pride & Prejudice, eight was Anne of Green Gables, fourteen was Little Women. Many summers were devoted to Harry Potter and my most recent book-of-thesummer was The Hunger Games. If I had to pick a book or series that I spent a lot of time with pretty much every summer over the last several years, though, I‟d have to pick The Chronicles of Narnia. I love those books like a favorite sweater; it‟s cozy, familiar and holds good memories. Ironically, my first truly memorable encounter with Narnia happened right before my thirteenth summer, when my mom picked up the 2005 version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe at Costco so we could watch a “nice,

classic, family story.” Prior to then, my only other Narnian experience was the 1980‟s miniseries, which I recall as being nice, if not a little dry, so I was excited to see a new bigbudget version. After watching the movie, I

get many themes, morals, and messages from it depending on your age, gender, and individual life experiences. The movies capitalize on the books‟ simplicity by bringing out the themes of sin, redemption, sibling and

was inspired to read the novels, which started me not only on a series of books that I unfortunately missed as a child, but also on a lifelong journey of learning and growth.

family relationships, forgiveness, friendship, death, sacrifice, childhood and growing up, self-worth, and love. This is testament to C.S. Lewis‟s design for his books. Lewis often mentioned that he wrote Narnia as “family books,” meaning they could be read and enjoyed by anyone,

One of the first things that struck me about the series is how universally interesting it is. You can

whether they‟re nine or ninety. As someone who read the books as an adolescent as well as an adult, I can see how they fit the “family book” format. The novels are simplistic enough for a young child to be delighted by them and at the same time, the simplicity allows older readers to find the deeper values within the stories. I didn‟t read the books in early childhood, so I never really experienced them simply as stories. But I did get a glimpse of what it‟s like to read them as a child when I read one of them with my six-year old babysitting charge a few years ago. To him, Narnia is all about the action. He likes the battle scenes, the horses, and King Peter. To him, the Narnia books are huge and epic, real page turners that he can‟t wait


to get through so he can read the next one. For me, it was an eyeopening experience. As a teen I recognized other values in the stories that pertained to my place in life, such as Lucy‟s sadness at having to leave Narnia as she grows up despite it being time for her to go. People have many different reasons for revisiting childhood stories. For some, it‟s sentimentality. Others simply love the story enough to go back and live through it again. Some people go back and read a childhood favorite because they want to

experience it through the eyes of a grown up, while others feel they didn‟t fully appreciate it as a child. For me, going back and reading the Narnia series first as a teenager then as an adult was a combination of all those reasons. Reading the books allowed me to enjoy a childhood classic I didn‟t read as a child, but rereading it provided me with both an imaginative story and a comfy “home-away-from -home” in book form. For me, Narnia is a spiritual haven that symbolizes the spiritual haven found in a relationship with Christ. Narnia symbolizes

goodness, innocence, joy, peace, and refuge, even in difficult circumstances. Life‟s hard choices and heartbreaks can cause spiritual and emotional weariness, but going back to a favorite childhood story can allow for catharsis. For me, visiting Narnia brings back happy, peaceful memories, like when my brother and I listened to the entire book-on-tape set while recovering from chickenpox. I think that‟s why I like to have my book-of-the-summer, and why anyone may like to go back and read a

book they loved as a child. Associating a book, and all the lessons you learnt from it, with a specific time lets you go back and visit whenever you feel like it. Just like the Pevensies learn new things every time they go back to Narnia, readers of the Narnia series will experience new lessons and joys every time they return as well. ♥


The best of children‟s literature has all the qualities of all good writing but also does something special. A truly great novel for children respects them. I don‟t mean it‟s appropriate for their age, though that‟s true; the writing acknowledges the particular feelings of kids while not speaking down to them. Wonderful kid‟s literature doesn‟t dumb down or patronize. It recognizes that more than the morality of a story matters, the way it is presented also must appreciate a child‟s imagination (and perhaps aid positively in their development). An author who consistently accomplished this was Roald Dahl, and one of the best examples of his work is The Witches. Its plotting and tone respects the intelligence and entertainment preferences of it‟s young audience.

boy stumbles on a convention of British witches, led by the Grand High Witch herself, and overhears their plot to kill all the children in the country. Things look bleak when they find him and turn him into a mouse, but he manages to escape. With his grandmother‟s

Originally published in 1983, The Witches tells the story of a boy who goes to live with his grandmother after his parents die in a car crash. His grandmother teaches him all about the real witches in their midst. At a resort in England, the

help, he turns the tables on the witches and stops their plan. Just this brief synopsis should suggest at least one part of the appeal of The Witches to children. The exciting plot is full of the sense of peril that young

readers enjoy. To begin with, these witches are a fresh creation of Dahl‟s, are crafted with maximum frightening impact. They‟re described as physically revolting, bald with big noses and no toes. The Grand High Witch is even more disgusting. They have the feel almost of a separate species. Kids find a certain thrill in being scared, and the witches easily do that. The details of the plot thrill the target audience as well. The boy‟s encounter with the witches which results in his transformation into a mouse is quite scary, and that‟s not to mention the plan of the witches itself. But the children in the audience are engaged by more than just fear in the story. The relationship between the boy and his grandmother is quite special. There‟s a clear affection between them but there‟s also more than that. She treats him in an

emotionally mature way, trusting him with the information needed to identify and protect himself against witches. She also takes his new mouse form in stride and cheerfully cares for him in this state at the end of the novel. Also, the boy is the one who actually carries out putting the potion that changes a human into a mouse into the witches‟ food, thereby changing them into mice and getting them killed by the staff of the resort. He gets to turn into an animal and save the day; what kid wouldn‟t love that? In 1990, a film version of The Witches was directed by Nicholas Roeg. The boy is named Luke and the Grand High Witch is played by Anjelica Huston. Roeg takes full advantage of the visual opportunities that film offers to create the same feeling while watching the film that the book elicits from the reader. First, the makeup effects used to bring the witches to life on screen are perfect. The hideousness of the makeup can‟t be overstated, especially for the Grand High Witch. She‟s made to look like a cross between a reptile


and a bald eagle on a human body. Also, the animatronics used to create the boy as a mouse are quite impressive. Kids will love to feast their eyes on these things in the film version. The story also wisely sticks closely to the book, except for one small change. There is one of the witches who leans toward goodness, and she appears to change Luke back into a boy in the final scene. (Dahl is said to have hated this change to his novel for the film.) Though the novel reader must have felt that the boy and his grandmother planning the downfall of all the world‟s witches was an appropriate resolution, the film audience gets a more visual happy ending. Roald Dahl famously preferred children to adults; this is exemplified by the respect his works show for the intelligence and imagination of kids, and The Witches fits this description exactly. The scary thrills, the touching central relationship between the boy and his grandmother, and the exciting plot prove that Dahl knew how to write children‟s literature. As if his works before and after this one, like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda, didn‟t already prove it. Dahl is a rare craftsman in children‟s literature, and in literature in general, in his appreciation for his target audience. ♥

“That‟s just a kid‟s book.” I‟ve heard this phrase uttered with contempt, as though the story hidden between the covers offers nothing but nonsense to anyone under the age of ten. But if you take a peek inside many children‟s books, whether a picture book or a novel for teens, you can often find a special kind of magic too often missing in adult novels. I first read Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson in the fifth grade. It touched me deeply, made me cry, and earned a place in my heart as one of my all-time favorite books. Rereading it as an adult, I hoped I wouldn‟t cry but the magic is still there; as I read the final chapters, my eyes filled with tears as I felt Jess‟s loss again. The story is simple: a lonely boy, Jess, befriends the new girl, Leslie, and together they imagine a royal realm where they are king and queen, infusing their ordinary lives with magic and wonder. It presents the reader with a safe place to experience love, friendship, anger,

revenge, fear, and death. No one who has read Terebithia can look on life the same again. When I read it I become Jess. I share the secret kingdom with Leslie, lost myself in her stories, fight off monsters, and know that one day I will be able to capture the imaginings of my brain and free them on paper. I share his loss and see him grow. In the beginning, Jess is a selfish boy, concerned with one thing only: being the fastest kid in fifth grade. By the end, he has learned the worth of others and discovered that though the world can give us great sorrow, it can also present us with breathtaking beauty. While the end of the book is sad, it ends not in sorrow but hope when a new queen enters Terebithia for her coronation. As she is crowned, Jess realizes that not only do we all have monsters to slay, we also all have gifts to give. ♥


Growing up in The Netherlands, I didn‟t know of most of the books in this issue until I started reading English in my early twenties. We had our own array of children‟s literature. Among those, the books of Thea Beckman were a very important part of my early teens. Mrs. Beckman (1923 -2004) is one of the best-loved writers of children‟s literature in The Netherlands. She wrote about 30 books of which the largest part had a historical setting, ranging from the 100year war between France and England, the Eighty Year‟s War in The Netherlands and the time of the Western Schism dividing Europe. I largely have her to thank for my love of historical novels and maybe even history as a whole. I blame her for giving me a “Medieval period” in my teens in which my best friend and I watched and

read everything about this period we could get our hands on, and even wrote our own stories about life in the Middle Ages. By telling the story from the point of view of children, she made history come alive; this is especially true in Crusade

in Jeans. This novel, taking place during the Children‟s Crusade in 1212, is told not just from the perspective of a child, but a modern child, the 20th century Dolf Wega. During a tour at the university where his father works, Dolf meets people working on a time

-machine. As a history enthusiastic, he signs up as a volunteer to test the machine. Dolf is eager to watch a medieval tournament, but though he ends up in the Middle Ages, it‟s somewhere else in Europe entirely. As his allotted afternoon in the

13th century draws to a close, Dolf returns to the place where he‟ll be flashed back to the present only to find himself in the middle of the passing Children‟s Crusade. Unable to return home and shocked by the circumstances in which the children travel,

Dolf decides to join the crusade. With his 20th century knowledge, Dolf attempts to improve the organization of the crusade and becomes somewhat of a leader in spite of himself. Many of the children look up to him but he comes into conflict with the priest Brother Anselmus, who leads the Crusade. Many adventures follow, including an epidemic of scarlet fever, crossing the Alps, and fights with hostile noblemen. Dolf makes friends with serfs and noblemen‟s children alike; he not only teaches them many things but also learns from their resourcefulness. Slowly it becomes clear there are evil forces at work among them, leading the hapless children not to their beloved Jerusalem but to a very different and much darker fate. Will Dolf and


his newfound friends be able to avert these dangers and keep the children safe? And will Dolf ever see his modern home again? Crusade in Jeans, written in 1974, won many prices, including the European prize for best historical youth book. It was translated in 10 languages and in 2005, an English spoken adaptation was made, starring among others Emily Watson and Michael Culkin. It‟s no wonder this book got so much attention. Aside from being a wonderfully written historical adventure, it‟s got the perfect point of view to draw readers in. Dolf, being a modern kid, like the readers, serves as the narrator of historical events. He expresses the astonishment and often disgust at how things were done in the Middle Ages, but also the sense of connection he feels to the Medieval children, who are really so much like him. In doing so, the readers connect to these children and their adventures as well. The Children‟s Crusade is an appealing historical event for young readers. What

would it be like to go on such a trip without adults, to have to fend for yourself? But Thea Beckman never makes Crusade in Jeans just a playful adventure novel. As with all her books, she is honest about the horrible living conditions in the historical periods; diseases that couldn‟t be cured, the great gap between rich and poor, the stifling superstition. Not all the characters you come to love in Crusade in Jeans make it to the end. Heartbreak and loss is mixed with happiness when the children find a good place to rest for the night. Still, the author isn‟t a pessimist about life in the Middle Ages. In an interview she once said:

“I have the feeling Medieval people are strongly underestimated. I do not believe people then were any more obtuse than nowadays.’” With many of the characters in Crusade in Jeans, Beckman honours this statement. There‟s Frieda, a serf girl from the countryside, who gives relief to the sick with her knowledge of herbs; Bertho, who by his hunting skills provides the children with fresh meat; and Carolus, the nobleman, who has been promised the throne of Jerusalem and displays a great sense of leadership for one of his young age. Dolf himself is impressed by the self-sufficient

children and the developed cities they come across during their travels. All of this makes Crusade in Jeans not just a book to read through, but a book to experience. It not only entertains its readers, it teaches them, inspires them and fills them with a deep sense of connection to people who lived before us. Crusade in Jeans and Thea Beckman‟s other books did all this to me and helped make me the reader I am now. For that, I‟ll always be grateful! ♥


Every girl remembers when she came across that literary heroine she connected personally with. My introduction occurred in the spring of 2000, at a church yard sale. My mother, sister

across the box. I‟d never heard of the movie or the March sisters but the description sounded intriguing. We brought it home and popped it in the VCR that afternoon.

journeys into womanhood. We laughed, cried and were filled with satisfaction by the end. I was ecstatic to learn Little Women was a book

beautiful and I love them—but it was Jo who captured my heart. Awkward, blunt, impetuous, tomboyish Jo. She never fit into 19th century society‟s mold of what a girl

and I were assisting with the sale and while we were there, we stumbled on a few interesting finds. One was a video with Little Women at the top and a picture of four smiling-faced girls and their mother splashed

We were transported from the present day to a woe-be-gone time where faith, family and friends mattered most. The March sisters were so dynamically unique that we sympathized with them and their unique

and bought it almost immediately. Once more I was carried away by the March sisters‟ many adventures. Even more importantly, I felt a kinship with Jo March. Meg was wise, Beth was sweet and Amy was

should be, just as I felt like I didn‟t fit into my world. Jo‟s greatest aspiration was to have a literary career and take care of her family; that resonated with me, too. I tried to be like Jo. I acted the way she did, used her


expressions, had my hair cut off, wore clothing reminiscent of that era, and wrote plays based on the character. Little Women is an idyllic version of the author, Louisa May Alcott‟s, life. From an early age, Louisa learned that life was difficult. Her father, though intelligent, didn‟t provide for his family. Her mother was a crusader for the poor and brought sickness into their home. Louisa started writing young and published a poem at age fifteen. It was about then that she started working outside the home. She vowed to be rich and famous before she died. She had a menagerie of occupations: maid, companion, nurse, teacher, seamstress and a writer of romances and lurid tales. Following the Civil War, it was suggested she write a book for girls. She didn‟t cotton to the idea at first, since she knew little about girls, with the exception of her sisters. Louisa adapted her life and memories into a novel and as soon as it was published it was a

run-away bestseller. Young and old, girls and boys, rich and poor— they adored it. The Alcott family no longer had to worry about poverty; by the time Louisa died, she was indeed quite wealthy (and famous!). The story opens with the four March sisters discussing Christmas and what to give their Marmee. As it unfolds, they meet their new

neighbor Laurie, go on various adventures and learn many life lessons; they accomplish their dreams, fall in love, marry, and venture out into the world. Jo does soon get published but also compromises her integrity by writing lurid tales. When she strikes up a friendship with Professor Friedrich Bhaer, he convinces her to write stories of the heart. Like Louisa, those

are the ones that reflect who she truly is. The novel is almost 150 years old but its popularity hasn‟t waned. To this day, Jo March and Little Women holds a special place in my heart. ♥


When I first met the Melendys, Randy Melendy‟s bike was carrying her out of control down a hill and into the back of a bus, resulting in an encounter with an alligator in a bathtub and a plateful of doughnuts. At the time (I was about seven), the doughnuts and the resulting scar on her forehead from the accident impressed me more than the alligator. Why shouldn‟t there be an alligator in a bathtub, smiling away? A few years later, I read this chapter, previously isolated in an anthology of children‟s stories, in its context in The Four-Story Mistake and met Randy (Miranda) and her siblings Mona, Rush, and Oliver properly, rather than at an accident scene, as it were. My older sister and I were captivated by the story of how the four children of the 1940s (not that we appreciated the era at the time) moved from New York City to a wacky house (called the Four-Story Mistake because it was supposed to have four stories and only had three and a stunted cupola) in the country. We read avidly as they encountered for the first time such

staples of our own childhood as climbing trees, swimming in icy streams, sledding, ice skating, and secret rooms (I never actually had a secret room— except in my imagination). I recognized the Melendys because they did everything my siblings and I did, only more so. We waded in ice-cold streams; they dammed theirs up and made a pool. We listened avidly to classical music; they played it on the piano. We put on impromptu plays; they created vast sets, invited the neighbors, and charged admission, proceeds going to War Bonds, whatever those were (almost the only time WWII intruded into the book). We baked and canned; they nearly blew up their kitchen with a canning project. We built tree houses; Rush spent a stormy night in his and got pneumonia. We read Shakespeare; Mona went around quoting him day

and night and became a radio actress. We learned about fire safety; Randy nearly burned their house down. We made up elaborate, romantic stories

and played them out; they lived one when they discovered their secret room and its romantic mystery. The Melendys were everything we were only better: a large, creative family who were always doing something interesting, only they quarreled less, were more talented, and had as much in common with the March sisters of Little Women as they did with us.

As if The FourStory Mistake wasn‟t good enough, we learned it was actually the second of four books about the Melendys by Elizabeth Enright. First there was The Saturdays, in which those creative children, while they were still New York City residents, each took a Saturday to go out alone and do something they‟d always wanted to do. In my small-town world, that would probably entail walking five blocks to the tiny grocery store and spending a whole dollar on candy. In the case of the metropolitan Melendys, it meant going to an art gallery, to the opera, to a hair salon, and to the circus. Their New York City was as far away from my Montana experience as their 1940s era was from my 1980s era, and yet we still shared something of an innocent, creative, adventurous approach to the world. Then there was And Then There Were Five, which, while never my favorite of the four books, saw an event which was always dear to my heart, the adoption of a lonely


and familyless but intelligent and creative boy their own age. And finally there was Spiderweb For Two: A Melendy Maze, in which Randy and Oliver spend the school year wandering the countryside following treasure-hunt clues left for them by their thoughtful older siblings, who have gone away to boarding school. Spiderweb For Two never fails to plunge me into the mystery and adventure of Oliver lost in a jungle of pokeweed plants on his quest for “a prelate in a pail,” of Randy and Oliver visiting cemeteries at sunrise in search of the grave of someone “named for a jewel, named for a bird,” of the lost Kwan Yin statue which guards “a secret or a prayer,” of the mail frozen beneath the surface of the stream because they left it there when they were chopping down the frozen waterfall to find the clue “prisoned in ice.” Yes, I still read the Melendy books. They‟re written for pre-teens, and I am thirty-two and still read them at least once a year. The quality, the writing style, the creativity and adventure, and above all the charm and magic of the children themselves never get old, nor seem too young for an adult to read over and over. ♥

Rites of passage from childhood to adulthood vary by era and culture. For some, a task must be accomplished; for others, a skill set must be learned; for yet others, an age limit must be passed. In pioneer America, a combination of age and acquired skills were required. Caddie Woodlawn explores one girl‟s struggle to find her individuality while meeting her family‟s expectations in a changing world. The book is a snapshot of a year in Caddie‟s life as she transforms from a tomboy to an aspiring young lady with a vision beyond her own childish selfishness. Although Caddie is a protagonist who matures through the force of time and her own will, a thorough reading of the book reveals the masterful orchestration of her transformation by her father, who guides her (despite her sometime resistance) into preadulthood by offering her aptly timed periods of freedom, advice, and opportunity that let her transition willingly into the young woman her parents want her to become. We meet Caddie as an unbridled

eleven-year-old running wild with her brothers through the wilderness. In Caddie‟s toddler years, the Woodlawn family moved from Boston to Wisconsin. Caddie and one of her younger sisters, Mary, suffered from poor health and, after Mary died, Mr. Woodlawn begged his wife to let him raise Caddie like her brothers —outdoors and engaged in physical activity and exploration. Worried for her daughter‟s health, Mrs. Woodlawn consented. While she kept the other daughters indoors and instructed them in cooking and quilting, Caddie learned to plow and gather food alongside her brothers Tom and Warren. Even after Caddie‟s health recovered, her father persisted in his request that his wife allow Caddie to live a boy‟s life. Together with Tom and Warren, Caddie forms part of an inseparable trio of adventurers who experience all manner of mishaps. They have a run-in with a rattlesnake when they go berrypicking on forbidden ground, they


take the family‟s horse without permission to meet their uncle at the ferry dock, they risk burning down the barn because they want mysterious lighting while they show the neighboring children their Indian scalp belt, and they go on innumerable other small adventures consisting of the everyday stuff of pioneer life. Throughout this time, Mrs. Woodlawn longs to tame her wild daughter, but Mr. Woodlawn still asks that she wait a while longer. For the moment, Caddie serves her own desires. She runs free with her brothers, enjoys few restrictions, and develops a healthy curiosity for the world around her. She treats her playmates possessively and feels jealous when Tom, the eldest of her brothers, begins to show romantic interest in one of the girls at school. Too young to have such feelings herself, Caddie resents the fact that someone other than his siblings occupies Tom‟s thoughts. She wants to avoid letting anyone (including her brothers and herself) grow up beyond their games of childhood. Eventually, Caddie starts to carve out a place for herself as an individual, and at that point Mr.

Woodlawn steps in to guide her to the next step of her maturation. When a prolonged illness keeps Caddie home from school for several weeks, she finds her father‟s clock workshop and tries her hand at fixing one of the many clocks awaiting his repair. After her initial failure, her father finds her and teaches her how to properly mend clocks. Caddie becomes partner in his clock mending, an honor unique among the Woodlawn children. This special bond with her father marks a turning point in her perception of the world around her. She‟s no longer simply Caddie, part of a group of sibling adventurers; rather, she becomes Caddie, the individual who has traits that set her apart from others in her world. Armed with this new selfknowledge, Caddie starts to relate to others in ways beyond a playmate. She‟s a confidante, guarding Tom‟s secret about the girl he has a crush on and, moreover, she stops resenting that crush. On an excursion to her sister Mary‟s grave, her younger sister Hetty joins her and Caddie realizes for the first time that Hetty is alone amongst the siblings—too old to join the babies and left out of the older children‟s

activities. Mary would have been near Hetty‟s age and after her death, Hetty had no one. After this realization, Caddie makes an effort to reach out to her younger sister and the two eventually realize they have more in common than either initially thought. As she matures, Caddie relates to the world with empathy. Beyond family bounds, she takes on additional responsibility. When the local Indian tribe departs on a journey, Indian John leaves his injured dog and his father‟s scalp belt with her for safekeeping. Later, Caddie faces the possibility of her family leaving the country and worries about what he‟ll think when he returns to find she‟s left and shirked her promised duties of caring for his dog and his prized scalp belt.

With these internal transformations in process, Mr. Woodlawn makes a final interference in Caddie‟s worldview that truly changes her perceptions. Following a particularly cruel joke the children play on a visiting cousin, their mother punishes only Caddie. Her father comes to her bedside and speaks to her about her mother‟s love for her and about the responsibilities of becoming a woman who will affect the world for good, bringing joy and goodness with her. His words reach Caddie‟s heart and, the next day, she begins to take an interest in the womanly arts her mother had previously tried in vain to entice her. Although still fiercely independent, by the end of the novel, Caddie has become a woman of whom both her father and her mother can be proud. ♥


18th-century London. Full of gangs, thieves, slavers, aristocrats, business men, writers, political cartoonists, and radicals— and the orphan Cat Royal get to meet them all. She was abandoned as a baby on the steps of the Royal Theater in Drury Lane, and grew up with the theater manager for a father, the costume mistress for a mother, the stage managers, conductors, musicians, players, and prompters for aunts and uncles; playwrights serving as her tutors, and members of Syd‟s Butcher Boys (a Covent Garden gang) as her friends. Her life sounds amazing, right? Over the course of the series, Cat‟s life gets even more incredible due to the fact that she‟s a right plucky „un, as one might say, and is constantly getting into trouble, which leads her to meet and befriend some very interesting people. There is so much to recommend about Julia Golding‟s Cat Royal series that it can be hard to know where to start. First of all, the historical atmosphere in most of the

books is rich and spot-on. You feel like you just stepped into 18th-century London, and it‟s a blast. Golding doesn‟t just parade her characters around the typical locations you find in a historical novel, either. Aside from the Royal Theater, Cat lives in a boy‟s school, with Quakers, in a fabric mill, in Paris, on a ship,

and on a Jamaican plantation just to name a few of the more unique spots. Another strength of these novels are the characters. Cat‟s coterie of friends include Frank and Lizzie, the children of the Duke of Avon; Pedro, a musical genius and slave; the Indian Chief Tecumseh; Jean-Francois Thiland,

the “king” of the Palais Royal Vagabonds; Syd, who besides being a gang leader is a boxer; and even her Highlander brother, Jamie. By far the best secondary character in the series is Billy “Boil” Shepard, Cat‟s arch-nemesis... or is he? Cat and Billy know one

another from Covent Garden, where he led a rival gang to Syd‟s and basically tortured Cat at every opportunity. But he decided he wanted to become a respec‟able business man, moved into a fancy house filled with gaudy things, learned how to read, and enrolled in elocution lessons. Cat was not impressed, though he took pains to show her his newfound success. There‟s

no doubt that Billy isn‟t a good guy—he‟s involved in every shady, morally questionable operation one can think of, from slavery to piracy—and he does seem to be creepily obsessed with Cat. Yet there‟s also something appealing about him, too, in that he genuinely wants to improve himself perhaps to be worthy of her. Plus, he‟s simply a fun character because he knows how to push all of Cat‟s buttons and viceversa, so every scene they share is bound to be marked by really sharp dialog and tons of tension. Of course, the star and narrator of all the books is Cat herself. Her education may have been unconventional and spotty but she‟s still super-smart and not just intelligent but canny. She can hold her own with street rats like Billy as easily as she does with dukes and duchesses. Her brains and loyalty to her friends get her into scrapes nine times out of ten, but she always lands on her feet. And it‟s a good thing, too, because her friends and her quick wit are the only things she really owns in the entire world.


The Holocaust is probably one of the most difficult historical events to explain to children today. They know it was a horrible thing that happened a long time ago, but have no idea how it relates to them. Because it‟s such a difficult subject to talk about, many children‟s books have been written about it over the years that allow children to see what the Holocaust was like from a child‟s perspective. Two of my favorites written on the subject are The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne and The

Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is from the perspective of a nineyear-old German boy named Bruno whose father is a Nazi officer. At the beginning of the story, Bruno and his family move from Berlin to the country. Understandably, Bruno is unhappy about the move. He misses his life in the city and is very lonely. He spends a lot of time wandering around outside by himself, exploring his new home. One day, on one of his walks, he sees a boy who

looks about his own age working on the other side of the back fence. Bruno immediately runs up to the boy and begins talking to him. The boy tells him that his name is Shmuel and he and his family are Jewish and live at Auschwitz. Bruno‟s father is the officer in charge of managing Auschwitz, so Bruno knows all about what life is like at the camp. At least he thinks he does. He only knows what he‟s seen on the propaganda films put out by the Nazis. The movies make it seem like the people sent to Auschwitz are treated well and that

everyone there, especially the children, is happy and healthy. Bruno finds out the hard way that this is not the case. The Devil’s Arithmetic is also told from a child‟s point of view. The narrator in this case is a Jewish girl named Hannah. Her aunt and uncle are Holocaust survivors, and tell stories about what they went through, but Hannah doesn‟t pay much attention to them. The stories bore her. The book opens with Hannah and her family attending a Passover dinner at her


great aunt‟s house. When the time comes for a child to open the door for Elijah (one of the traditions that takes place during the first night of Passover), Hannah is asked to it. When she opens the door, she finds herself in a small Polish village in 1942. The people she meets when she gets there insist on calling her “Chaya” and think she‟s one of their relatives. Soon after Hannah arrives, Nazis storm the village and send all the residents to a concentration camp. Hannah suddenly realizes the stories that her aunt tried to tell her are all true and she is now living them. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Devil’s Arithmetic are both extremely powerful books. The children (and adults) who read them, whether they‟re Jewish or not, are sure to come away with a greater understanding of what really happened during that time and with a determination to prevent anything like that from ever happening again. ♥

The Cat Royal books are at their best when the theme of the stories revolve around Cat‟s struggle to be recognized as a human being—a particularly appropriate topic considering the late 18th century is when the philosophical ideals of Enlightenment like human rights, equality, and individualism start impacting politics and peoples‟ lives in a very tangible way. Not only is Cat female, she‟s literally no one: she has no family, no home, and not even a name as she was simply named after the Royal Theater. As far as the law is concerned, she barely even exists let alone has rights. This is why her friendship with Pedro works so well: they‟re basically in the same boat as far as how precarious their lives are. Anyone can do whatever they want with them, including slavers like Kensington Hawkins or members of the aristocracy, who order Cat to be hanged at one point. Cat‟s continued struggle against not just these people but the conventions and assumptions that allow them to hurt her and her friends elevate her from a girl with a talent for trouble to a fighter of a noble cause. Although children‟s books, the Cat Royal series can really appeal to all ages. It‟s fun, witty, and brings to life the pain and brilliancy of growing up without being maudlin. And through these books, you can travel to so many places and experience so many different stories that it‟s difficult to imagine these books not appealing to anyone who enjoys a good story. Given time, these novels are sure to become classics. ♥

Epic Pals Inside This Issue: Holmes & Watson Peter & Neil Finch & Reese Lewis & Hathaway George& Orry Esposito & Ryan Hugo & Isabelle Will & Diane Annie & Auggie Legolas & Gimli The Potter Trio Doctor & Donna Anne Shirley & Diana Berry Mattie & Rooster Kirk & Spock Tony & Ziva

Coming August 1st

Femnista May / June 2013  

In this issue: Ballet Shoes, Black Beauty, My Father’s Dragon, Harry Potter, The Oz Books, The Secret Garden, Louisa May Alcott, Nathan T. R...

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