Friday, July 12, 2013

What I've Read This Week Part I

What I've Read This Week Part I . . .

Blue Willow by Doris Gates-- Children's Classic/Historical Fiction 
Newbery Honor 1941

Ever since the drought and dust storms drove Janey Larkin's dad to give up his Texas ranch, the family has been on the move. Janey longs for a real home where they can stay as long as they want and Janey can place her family heirloom blue willow plate in a place of honor. Janey reveres that plate. To her it's the most beautiful thing in the world and symbolizes home and family. For now Janey's family is settled in the San Joaquin Valley in California in an old shack. Janey worries about how long it will be before they move on and tries to keep her distance from people. Before long, the lively Lupe Romero and her family work their way into Janey's heart. There's also school, not regular school, just camp school, but school with books and a teacher who understands. The mean overseer, Bounce Reyburn threatens Janey's contentment and future dreams. Will the Larkins ever find a place they can stay as long as they want? This is a sweet, charming story told from the point-of-view of a young child.
The story is free of any sort of judgement, racism or any sort of prejudice. It is told told with a child's innocence. It reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird in that respect. No matter what happens, Janey keeps on dreaming of a better future. Despite her difficult circumstances she's neither wise beyond her years nor broken down and defeated. It does have elements of a fairy tale at times but that's all right for a children's book. I could relate to Janey and her love for stories and the importance of family heirlooms. This is just the sort of book I liked as a child. I don't know how I missed this one.

The Silver Pencil by Alice Dalgliesh-- Children's Classic/Historical Fiction 

This Newbery Honor winner from 1945 is based on the life of the author.  
Janet Laidlaw lives in a house on a hill in beautiful Trinidad in the early 1900s. Her mother often has "spells" where she's unwell so Janet is alone a lot. She has a powerful imagination and her beloved father gives her a silver pencil for Christmas to write down her stories. Soon after, her father dies unexpectedly and Janet is too grieved to write. When it comes time for her to go to high school, her mother takes her "home" to England where she distinguishes herself in school and is on track to earn a scholarship to college. However, finances don't allow for college so Janet and her mother return to Trinidad, where Janet is terribly bored. After observing Janet with young children, a friend suggests Janet go to Canada or America to become a kindergarten teacher. Janet chooses to move all the way to Brooklyn to attend teacher's college. She isn't sure she's cut out to be a teacher. Story time is the best part of her day. Does she have what it takes to be a teacher? Will she ever find time to write? This story is similar in premise to Emily of New Moon but without the charm and color of Lucy Maud Montgomery's famous trilogy. Janet is a flat and boring character. The action of the story is told rather than shown and there really isn't much plot. It's very very slow. The descriptions of Trinidad are beautiful and a little more lively than the plot. The depiction of England is also charming but once summer is over and Janet becomes busy with school, all description ends. Later in the book, Janet arrives in a small village in New York which is also treated to a charming description which made me sure the author had been there and was writing from life. This book contains a lot of pre-WWI British Empire sentiment that really annoyed me. Though I understand that's what people believed at the time, it's rather distasteful to modern readers. America is described as backwards and uncultured; somewhere Janet would never want to live, in the beginning of the story. Later though, once Janet is older and has traveled more, the author stops editorializing on how wonderful the British Empire is and just describes what's happening and the scenery. I would have liked to have read Janet's book. Part of what makes Lucy Maud Montgomery's stories so fascinating are the local color stories she imported into the plot. It sounds like Janet had the same idea as Anne but we never get to experience it. I don't think modern readers will appreciate or enjoy this novel. Kids today are used to lots of action and adventure and this book doesn't have either.

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