The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This was the right spring time book for an Easter read. I’ve seen more than one adaptation of this book on TV and movies. I also think I read at the very least an adapted version of this as a kid.

I liked the transformation of spoiled and sour Mary into a kinder and more robust one. I was less interested in Colin and the move shifts more to him in the latter half. Dickon is a funny character too. I do genuinely like the kindness of the characters that Burnett writes about it here and in A Little Princess.

What I liked most about this book was that my hard cover was big and had lovely illustrations by Inga Moore. I think that was a big part of why I enjoyed the story as much as I did. As a child, I loved a similar style book of Peter Pan. It really makes a worthwhile reading experience when children’s books are presented this way.

Read March 27, 2016.

Little House series round-up post

I am counting this as one Classics Club entry because technically I’ve reread most of the books except two.

  1. The Little House in the Big Woods
  2. Farmer Boy
  3. Little House on the Prairie
  4. On the Banks of Plum Creek
  5. By the Shores of Silver Lake
  6. The Long Winter
  7. Little Town on the Prairie
  8. These Happy Golden Years
  9. The First Four Years

When I started this read-along, I wanted to judge if the books were as good as I remember them and if reading them as an adult coloured my views. This was not my absolute favourite series as a kid, but it definitely had its moments. I’m someone who has always been pulled to the country and simpler life. I have a lot of old fashioned tastes and hobbies so the books worked on me in that level. I also enjoy history.

I was perturbed and saddened to find that Pa Ingalls did seem to be an irresponsible father at times. As much as he loved his girls, he was a bit shady and a poor man with finances. Most kids would have a lot of this stuff go over their heads, but even as a kid, I never understood why Charles Ingalls moved his family so much across the country. I also disliked the racism especially as voiced by Ma.

I would still read or recommend these to children, even though I have the aforementioned qualms. One of the best aspects of the series is Laura herself who is honest, brave yet realistic. She is inherently relateable to most young girls. The writing is good too. I think Wilder is a lovely writer. There is some memorable images and fun moments from these books. Credit to Laura and maybe Rose Wilder Lane for that. I think it’s written well for the most part.

More than ever, this readalong has really made me excited for Pioneer Girl. I look forward to reading Laura’s even less embellished childhood.

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The more I re-read these books, the more uncomfortable I am with Charles Ingalls. While the books have some lovely moments especially with Laura exploring the wild and the glimpses of frontier life, I get annoyed with Pa.

He buys lumber for a house in the spring on credit of the wheat he will harvest later. It is a big lack of foresight because the last wheat harvest by the previous owner was poor. He does not research the area they move into very much at all. Unsurprising that they have locusts for two years. It’s horrifying to read though.

On a positive note, I continue to like Laura. She relatable to most girls. Aside from the moment where Ma gives Charlotte away, I have to hand it to Caroline. She does very well under the circumstances. I have also liked Christmas scene in the book so far. I like how it was a cherished time of family, love, and unselfish behaviour among people. There is a deep sense of gratitude and warmth in the gift scene. I also think Caroline and Charles do really love each other. Charles loves his family, and I feel sorry for him and his family.

I continue to have mixed feelings about the books, but some of my favourite moments will come as Laura grows up.

Reread August 30th-September 3rd, 2014 on Kindle.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Compared to the first book, lots of things happen in this novel. So also begins the
the restlessness of Charles Ingalls.

This novel had moving, travel, house building, Indians, malaria, and more. A lot of the stuff was on the scary side such as the creek crossing part, almost losing Jack the dog, and basically all the parts with wild animals.

It was a bit interesting to watch them travel and build a home on the prairies. Pa also seems to be a great hunter. I do like his endearment to Laura being “half-pint of sweet cider half drunk up.” I also liked the introduction of Mr. Edwards; I liked him when I was a kid too. I enjoyed the Santa Claus chapter and laughed out loud with that line: “In the Southwest, Santa Claus rides a pack mule”

The Scotts’ racism against Indians was a low point though. Pa wasn’t particularly prejudiced, but I’m wary about this whole land issue in the book.

I can’t judge this book without reading the others I feel. There are some nice moments that exemplified Laura’s (or Rose’s) writing ability.

Reread August 23, 2014 on Kindle.

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This book in the series is known for its food, and there is lots and lots of food at the beginning stages. Almanzo’s childhood is relatively stable and abundant when compared to Laura’s. I think Laura wrote all the food to emphasize how much Manly had, but also how much she herself didn’t have growing up.

This is actually a really good standalone children’s book. There are a lot of period details about farm life from harvesting, weaving, animal husbandry, the fair, and much more. I only felt bad for the women and girls. Alice, Eliza, and Mother seemed to have been in the kitchen their whole lives. Alice even says “Boys have all the fun.”

The other discomfort would be the outdated stories about the Indian at the fair and playing “Indian”. The other annoying thing was Almanzo randomly getting $200 at the end for no reason really. None of the kids get “tanned” by their parent in this story. In fact, Father Wilder seems to be an incredibly savvy and benevolent man.

I’d reread this in the future. There was some sweet moments, but the ending was a bit abrupt.

Reread August 19-21, 2014 on Kindle.

The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is part of a readalong of the Little House series I am organizing on an internet forum I moderate.

One of the reasons I organized the readalong was to see if they were as good as I remembered, but also to look critically for things. Rose Wilder wrote a lot of these books with her mother, and her political views are sprinkled throughout. Secondly, reading between the lines, a lot of other readers wondered if Pa Ingalls as that good of a family man after all.

The Little House in the Big Woods

This book was more boring than I remembered. Actually, maybe this book is so idyllic, it edges onto tedium.

I did enjoy some aspects, particularly the food parts: butchering, cheese-making, butter churning, maple sugaring, and more. I like the hunting moments, Christmas family moments, and Ma making hats. The ending is sweet too.

Some of the stuff I wasn’t loving was the punishments, spankings for birthdays, and the rivalry between Mary and Laura in general was a bit discomforting. I didn’t like how they wrote about how Laura was not noticed because of her brown hair and curls: “They were ugly and brown.” Poor Laura.

Why did they move? I don’t know how the woods were so crowded when Laura and Mary had never even seen two houses together let alone a town or a store.

All in all, this was a lackluster start. It had its moments. I may consider it for children’s reading.

Reread August 18, 2014 on Kindle.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree

My parents did not read to me as a child so I had to read a lot of children’s classics on my own as a kid or now, later as an adult. I also remember being read to a few times in school of course, but not this classic.

Most people know this story already but essentially it is about a tree who loves a boy

I really liked the book as I read it, and I had certain expectations for the ending such as the boy repenting about what he did to the tree or treat it with respect. But no, he just sits on her stump and she’s just happy about it. I was perplexed about this. Then I read all the polarizing views about this book. Frankly, I am not sure what I would rate this book.

This book is highly subjective. Many people likens the relationship to that of a parent and child, some see it religiously (Tree as a Christ figure), others frame it in political/economic terms, and more directly, a story about humans and the environment. Having recently read Cloud Atlas, I’m inclined to the human nature, greed and abuse of the planet aspect of it.

There is also the interpretation the relationship between the anthropomorphic tree and the boy represents all loving relationships and how selfless or self-sacrificing love is or should be at the end of the day. In love you give, but you ask nothing back in return. On the other hand, if this book really is about parents and children since there seems to be a story of growing up with the boy, it is the idea that all parents must give to their children. Where this analogy takes a real dark turn is that the parent must be cut down for the child.

After the ending and thinking it through, I am not sure I would read this to a child. I think if I read this as a child, I’d be really sad about the tree and quite angry with the boy (so I haven’t changed much in that regard). Also, perhaps guilty about human nature’s inclination to take things from the environment, from each other, etc. It could make me feel that you should not ask for so much from anything nor you should take things for granted. It is not spelled out like that at the end though. I do not mind sad endings even for children’s books, but this ending was very ambiguous. It felt unsatisfactory in its lesson whatever that may be.

I rated the book out 3 of 5 on Good Reads in the end because I think it is though provoking. Not many other picture books can generate this much interpretation or controversy and doubtless will continue to. It makes you consider the book at all angles. I recommend it to most people just for that reason.

Read January 31st 2013.

Anne of Green Gables

By L. M. Montgomery. I missed on reading this Canadian classic when I was kid. I really wish I had. I’ve been fairly busy these past weeks (a couple more weeks and I’m on free), so it took me much longer than usual to finish such a book. It was a bit slow at first, and I wasn’t sure I had warmed to Anne, but I think she won me early on. I liked all the characters in this book. The dialogue was clever and observant, and while loquacious at times, Anne is such a great character. I think she should be the type of character children should read about. I love her curiosity, kindness, ambition, and dreaminess because I can be quite similar, and her love of the outdoors and of Green Gables. From the get-go, I really loved the characters of Marilla and Matthew. The book is also very Canadian in my humble opinion. Montgomery seems to really know her characters and their quirks. It’s no wonder this book is a classic. I’ve been a bit maudlin lately, and this book did make me shed a couple of tears. It started off slow, but I enjoyed the simple life of Anne at Green Gables. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Peter Pan in Scarlet

This is the sequel authorised by the Great Ormond Street Hospital which has owned the rights to Peter Pan since J. M. Barrie’s death. Peter Pan is without the doubt one of my favourite books growing up, and it remains a story close to my heart. This sequel was better than Spielberg’s film Hook, and I think I like it better than Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s prequel Peter Pan and the Starcatchers. While that book was fine, this one has more heart and more of a sentimental value for me because Geraldine McCaughrean uses the original characters such as Wendy, John, and the Lost Boys. I always have trouble getting into sequels without the original characters being there. This is one of the reasons I don’t like the later Narnia books as much as the first ones; I couldn’t warm to the new kids like I did the original four Pevensie children. Though I really liked The Magician’s Nephew. Though I do think Barry’s and Pearson’s story probably moved a bit faster than this one. This novel was a bit slow in the middle, but I quite liked the end. I also think another big strength in the book is how well she writes the original characters. She really knows the characters; her mimickery of Barrie’s writings and style is good. It’s true to the original which is why I find the book has a certain sweetness and warmth that’s just right as a sequel.

Bridge to Terabithia

This book reminded me a bit of To Kill a Mockingbird in its setting and main characters. Both books takes place in the south. While the core themes of it differ, both are essentially stories about growing up. Katherine Paterson seems to capture childhood so well. When Jess and Leslie create and explore Terabithia, I remember my own childhood of imagining other worlds, fantastic creatures and adventures. They even refer to Narnia. I remember reading that series, and trying desperately to find a wardrobe. I’m sure I hid in a wardrobe once, but alas, not gateways. The only thing that bothered me about this book is that I predicted the ending early on, and initially found it a bit contrite. I do not blame the book because if I had read it when I was 10, I probably would not have found it contrived since now I’m marred by years of books, movies and television. It’s hard for me to review very well written books, especially children’s ones such as this because it just comes down to the writer’s ability to write prose and experiences that capture readers. Paterson allowed me to be nostalgic, and I only wish I had read this when I was younger because I know I would have loved it and understood it even more than I do now.

The movie was adapted by Disney this year. Overall, I think they did a decent job. It could have been a lot worse, and while they changed some things such as the time setting of the book (present day instead of the 1970s in the book) and other little details, I found they kept the important things and tried to accentuate certain details the book was subtle yet important on (Jess’s father and their relationship). I do not think the movie is a replacement is for the very well written book about growing up and the values of imagination and friendship. I liked the movie well enough, and considering what I’ve heard of other films in this demographic, it probably is good as a stand alone film and more worth kids’ (and adults too) time.

Booking Through Thursday – Great __ Novel

What, in your opinion, is the (mythical) Great American Novel? At least to date. A “classic,” or a current one–either would be fine. Mark Twain? J.D. Salinger? F. Scott Fitzgerald? Stephen King? Laura Ingalls Wilder?

It doesn’t have to be your favorite book, mind you. “Citizen Kane” may be the “best” film, and I concede its merits, but it’s not my favorite. You don’t have to love something to know that it’s good.Now, I know that not all of you are American–but you can play, too! What I want from you is to know what you consider to the best novel of YOUR country. It might be someone the rest of us haven’t heard of and, frankly, I think we’d all like to get some new authors to read. – BTT

Shamefully, I’ve read more American books and authors than Canadian ones. I’ve read more British books and writers as well. So I’ll take a stab at the American question because I’m quite the fan of John Steinbeck. I also grew up with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and the TV series. I also think Jeffrey Eugenides novels are very American and modern classics. There are a lot of books I would consider great American novels. Edit: I must agree with the comment below that I love Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The movie blows my mind as well.

As for Canadian novels, I must concede Margaret Atwood here. I haven’t read all of the Orpheus trilogy, but Robertson Davies falls in this category as well. Probably L. M. Montgomery, but I have not started on my Anne of Green Gables yet. I’m inclined to think children’s novels and stories usually make great best novels for countries.

A Visit to William Blake’s Inn

A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experience TravellersLike Nancy Willard the author of this book, I loved William Blake’s poetry from the first time I read it. I even made a layout inspired by and using “Tyger” for this domain about five years ago. In high school, I chose a Blake poem for a history assignment which allowed me to further delve into his work and biography. Blake was a unique poet and artist in his time, and often considered eccentric by his Romantic movement contemporaries. He’s definitely one of my favourite poets, and I’ve always been fascinated by his work and philosophy, art and ideas. I have not read a picture book in awhile, but I do love children’s literature. This book is splendid too. I read it before bed. It made me smile with its homage to Blake and the whimsical pictures. There is such imagination and creativity in itself, and it’s a wonderful introduction to Blake’s work for all ages. I can see myself reading this again just so it can make me smile and feel like a child again.