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Category Archives: Children’s Books

From a Little House to a Big Farm

At the end of “Little House on the Prairie,” the second of the classic nine-book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laura and her family were Farmer Boysetting out from their home for parts unknown. In “Farmer Boy,” the third book, we start out a long way from the prairie. We find ourselves in New York State at the very large farm of the Wilder family, home of Laura’s future husband, Almanzo. And again, as in the first two books, we are allowed an enthralling glimpse into American life in the late 19th century.

Instead of the adventurous wanderings of a pioneer family, this time we see the equally challenging existence of an American farm family. Trust me, it could be nearly as harrowing as life on the frontier. From cutting blocks of ice from the nearby “pond,” to hauling wood in sleds over treacherous, snowy roads, to a race to save a corn crop from freezing in the pre-dawn hours, farming was a physically taxing and emotionally stressful occupation which required a person’s complete commitment. Much like it is today, I would guess, except without all the technology.

Fortunately for Almanzo, and the reader, life on a large farm with a big family had many joys as well. For one thing, Mother’s cooking. That woman could cook! And could that Almanzo eat: “Almanzo ate four large helpings of apples’ n’ onions fried together. He ate roast beef and brown gravy, and mashed potatoes and creamed carrots and boiled turnips, and countless slices of buttered bread with crab-apple jelly.” Think he was done? After all that, Mother “put a thick slice of birds’-nest pudding on his bare plate, and handed him the pitcher of sweetened cream speckled with nutmeg . . . Almanzo took up his spoon and ate every bit.” Not a book to read while you’re hungry.

As in the previous books, there really isn’t a plot as such, more of an examination of life at that time and place in America. More important than a story line, though, are the virtues Laura Ingalls Wilder allows us to witness in these books. We see the love and loyalty of close families, the respect of children for their parents (though not always obedience!), as well as hard work, dedication, perseverance, courage, duty, honesty and kindness. These are the true building blocks of American civilization and we forget about them today at our nation’s peril.

That’s a pretty good reason to make sure today’s children are exposed to these books.

 

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2014 in Book Review, Children's Books, History

 

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Big Classic on the American Prairie

Little House BooksOnce upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs

The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees. As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads.There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them.

I love this opening. Ernest Hemingway would love this opening. Heck, Hemingway would love this book. For all I know he may have read it. If he did, I’m sure he smiled.

The above sentences introduce the reader to a series of true American classics, the “Little House” series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That’s right, “Little House on the Prairie” was not a single book but the second in a series of nine books about growing up in the American pioneer days. More than just books for young people, these books are considered by many to be valuable records of an important time in our nation’s history.

I’ve wanted to read these books for many years but put off starting until I had all nine volumes. Then a couple of weeks or so back, while browsing around one of our favorite thrift stores, I came across the reason I frequent such places. Sitting on a shelf in the children’s book section was a brand new boxed set of all nine “Little House” books put out by Scholastic Inc. I mean the paperback spines weren’t even creased! The price: $3.99. After I put my eyes back in my skull, I grabbed the set and hugged it to my chest.

So far I’ve read the first two books: “Little House in the Big Woods” and “Little House on the Prairie.” In straightforward, efficient prose, Laura tells the story of what it was like growing up in the late 1800s with her Ma and Pa and sisters, Mary and Baby Carrie. These books aren’t about plotting and characterization but rather they are the treasured recollections of a young girl plainly told. The chapters are connected episodes explaining what living on the nation’s frontier was like, including descriptions of the many skills they possessed and the labors they performed to get through the seasons, especially the long winters.

And, yes, you do get to know the characters, but they are revealed by their actions and responses to the situations they find themselves in. Very much like the way one comes to know a person in everyday life. Pa is confident in his abilities, possesses a joy for life and a deep love of his family. And he’s pretty good with a fiddle too. Ma is more subdued, an excellent cook, gardener, seamstress, and calm as a rock in the face of trials and unexpected encounters with bears. Mary, the older sister, is the good little girl, never raising a fuss. Of course, Laura is the one who’s curious about everything and willing to challenge Ma and Pa’s boundaries to find out what’s going on. And Baby Carrie is . . . well, a baby.

Though the chapters are episodic, they aren’t disjointed. The thread of a frontier life remembered connects them to each other and to the reader in a way that mere fiction seldom accomplishes. As I read each chapter, the more I kept in mind that these were Laura’s actual memories the more affecting her descriptions became. Whether because of encounters with Indians, prairie fires racing toward the house, the dangers of digging a well or of dealing with wolves or bears, one comes to realize that each day was truly an adventure for these brave families who chose to move westward. Even something seemingly as simple as Pa going to town could be cause for anxiety:

Before dawn, Pa went away. When Laura and Mary woke, he was gone and everything was empty and lonely. It was not as though Pa had only gone hunting. He was going to town, and he would not be back for four long days.

The simplicity and directness of Laura’s words convey a sense of vulnerability that’s hard to match.

I’ll be starting the third book, “Farmer Boy,” soon and I’ll do a review of that and a few more as I read them. But do yourself a favor and get these books and read them. Read them for yourself and to your children. They are true American classics and remind us of how the American character was formed and what it is that makes this country and its people something special. It is so important that we keep these memories alive, both for ourselves and, even more so, for our young.

 

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Book Hunting, Book Review, Children's Books, History

 

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Attila the Hun . . . For Kids!

Well, actually, the book is called “The White Stag,” but it’s about the history, albeit legendary, of Attila’s origins. The White StagWritten by Kate Seredy and published in 1937 (the copyright was renewed in 1965), it has since been released as a Puffin Newbery Library edition which I was fortunate enough to find at my local library’s book sale.

Recommended for ages 8 – 12, this book contains all the elements this 59-year-old kid finds irresistible. This fine blending of history, heroic legend and mythology purports to tell the tale of the early history of the Hungarian, or Magyar, race. As Seredy describes it in her foreword, “Those who want to hear the voice of pagan gods in wind and thunder, who want to see fairies dance in the moonlight, who can believe that faith can move mountains, can follow the thread on the pages of this book. It is a fragile thread; it cannot bear the weight of facts and dates.”

Most of the tale proceeds before the coming of Attila. After Old Nimrod, Mighty Hunter before the Lord passes on, his sons Hunor and Magyar, the Twin Eagles of Hadur, migrate westward from wild Altain-Ula. Led by the miraculous White Stag, they journey in search of their new homeland, “a land, rich in game and green pastures, between two great rivers rich in fish, surrounded by mountains . . . “

This story has all the wonderful elements that can capture a young person’s imagination. Historic legend, fantasy, adventure, action, exploration and heroic characters. As Hunor and Magyar lead their people west, they must deal with magical creatures, including a pair of moonmaidens, the stern tribal prophet Damos, their pagan god Hadur and even a tribe of people called the Cimmerians (is that you, Conan?).

Attila is born in the final chapter, the grandson of Hunor. His coming was foretold in tribal prophecies and heralded by the old prophet Damos: “Attila is born! Attila, with the mighty voice and wings red as blood. Attila who will lead you into the promised land, the Red Eagle, greatest of all warriors, Attila.” Indeed, the Red Eagle leads his people into the promised land, but not before facing a crisis that threatens his tribe and his beliefs.

Despite the pagan motif, this is a story that displays the virtues of persistence and faith in the best of lights. There is an air of the biblical epic here and Seredy even includes some references to scriptural tales from the Old Testament as part of the tribe’s ancient memories. Using strong, lean prose, Seredy conveys a sense of great time passing in a mere 94 pages, including her own illustrations, which are wonderful.

Get this book for your young reader. When they’re finished with it, you read it. You won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2013 in Book Review, Children's Books, Old Books

 

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An Open Letter to Meghan Cox Gurdon

Dear Ms. Gurdon,

Every Saturday I cruise down to the local market to get the weekend Wall Street Journal. It is one of my weekly pleasures to come home from church Sunday morning, enjoy a nice brunch and open the pages of a good newspaper. In particular I enjoy the Review section, mainly for the books. I have to say I’m surprised, but extremely happy, that you have a regular column on children’s books in the Wall Street Journal. After reading reviews of books about the history of mahogany and a travelogue based on the origins of noodles (really, WSJ?) your weekly exploration of children’s and young adult books is a welcome oasis.

Last week I received the July/August issue of Imprimis (a bit late) and was pleased to see your picture and byline on the front. Your topic, “The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books,” was immediately appealing, with the added bonus of referring me to an article you wrote for WSJ in 2011 titled “Darkness Too Visible.” I knew that the young adult category was growing increasingly dark, but I was thinking of all the titles with vampires and zombies and such. I didn’t realize you were writing about human monsters. They’re even worse.

What I don’t understand is how books with such things as abductions, rape, self-mutilation, parental molestation, and oral sex can be labeled as “young adult.” Even less understandable is how writers, librarians and others see your reasoned and intelligent critiques as a threat to freedom of expression. Encouraging taste and discrimination in choosing and producing juvenile literature is a bad thing? Who knew?

While we’re on the subject of darkness in today’s books, have you seen the novels your colleague, Sam Sacks, has been reviewing in his “Fiction Chronicle” column? Granted that these are for adults, but the books he reviews contain debilitating grief, depression, misery, addiction, isolation, loneliness, breakdowns and family tensions. His words. From this weekend’s column. I can’t wait to walk past those books at Border’s. Does Mr. Sacks actively seek these novels? Are they sent to him? Does he see his therapist once or twice a week?

But wait, there’s more! Forget the books. There’s another kind of darkness lurking around the Review pages, the kind that sneaks into people’s subconscious, burrows in and sends roots all through their world view. In the “Mind & Matter” column, written by Robert Sapolsky and Alison Gopnik, human life is observed through the lens of materialist science. Biology, neurology, anthropology, psychology, chemistry and, of course, evolution, pretty much explain all our behaviors. Which basically means we are merely meat machines marching to orders we have no control over. Puts a smile on my face.

OK. I know. This wasn’t much of a letter. More of a rant, actually. But I really did mean what I said about your “Children’s Books” column. And your piece in Imprimis gives me hope that there are people still fighting to let some light into this ever darkening world. Keep up the good fight, Ms. Gurdon, and know there are lots of us out here cheering you on.

I’ll do what I can in my small corner, too.

All the Best,

Rob

P.S. -  Could you slip Mr. Sacks a copy of “The Wind in the Willows” or “The Hobbit” maybe? Thanks.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Children's Books, Ideas

 

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Do You Read “Young?”

Pan depicted on the cover of The Wind in the W...

Pan depicted on the cover of The Wind in the Willows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several weeks back I read an article in the Reading Matters section of one of my favorite websites, MercatorNet. Titled “Books of Innocence and Experience,” it was about how more adults these days seem to be reading books intended for the young adult market, books like the “Harry Potter” series, or “Hunger Games.” I would go so far as to say that some adults are even reading what might be classified as children’s books. I know that within the past year I’ve read both. From “The Wind in the Willows” to “The Hobbit” to “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” I find these “young” books to be more engaging, interesting and with more intriguing ideas than a large number of so-called “adult contemporary” fiction.

The author of the article, Clare Cannon, points out that “contemporary adults’ novels offer weird and wonderful stories that try to make up for a lack of hope and ideals with bizarre twists and extreme experiences, or with the smashing of taboos and guilt which they blame for killing the happiness that their ‘liberal’ experiences should have given them.

“That is why so much of it is just plain depressing, even if many people find it addictive.”

I found evidence of this in last weekend’s book review section of the Wall Street Journal, which reviewed two new novels which “ponder the courtship habits of neurotic millenials in Brooklyn and Silicon Valley.” No thrill going up my leg over those. According to Ms Cannon there are many books on the market today that are “just plain depressing.”

So why are people reading these kinds of books? If anyone out there has any ideas, I’d love to hear them. Personally, I have no clue. But if they’re leading more people to read young adult and children’s books, maybe they’re serving a purpose after all.
 
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Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Children's Books, Ideas, Worries

 

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I’ll Take “Book Hunting” For 100!

Unless I’ve miscounted or my blog program is lying to me, this should be my 100th post here at the Old Book Bible Story BookJunkie. 100. Didn’t know if I’d make it that long. Thanks to all of you who have read and/or followed me here. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all your “likes” and comments. Hopefully, I can earn your continued patronage in the year ahead. Now, onward.

Once again I have been out among the thrift stores and library sales, and once again I have found some nice books. This past Friday my wife and I were at the Disabled American Veterans Thrift store, one of our favorite places to rummage around in. They have great items at great prices and for a great cause.

For example, I found a nice copy of “Egermeier’s Bible Story Book: A Complete Narration from Genesis to Revelation for Young and Old,” (1955, Warner Press Publication, Gospel Trumpet Company.) These versions of the biblical stories were first written and published in 1923 by Elsie E. Egermeier. The 1955 version I found was revised slightly by Arlene Hall.

Samuel gets a new coatElsie Egermeier’s intent was to “present these stories in such a simple, direct manner that her youthful readers will have no difficulty in comprehending their teaching.” It seems that this type of book, re-telling the key Bible stories in plain language for younger readers, was very popular in the early to mid-20th century. Some of the newer ones I’ve seen today tend to be cartoonish in their approach, particularly the illustrations. As you can see from this picture, that’s not the case with  “The Bible Story Book.” The book is full of wonderful color and black and white lithographs that don’t turn the stories into fairy tales. I have concerns about children seeing cartoon depictions of Moses or Jesus. Do they understand that they were real people and not some cartoon characters?

I also picked up a good, clean copy of “The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha, Expanded Edition,” (1977, Oxford University Press, Inc.) It is edited by the great Bruce M. Metzger and this expanded edition contains the third and fourth books of the Maccabees and Psalm 151. That’s right, Psalm 151, which is purportedly a psalm of David commemorating his battle with the giant Goliath. Is it true? God knows, but the psalm is great:

I went out to meet the Philistine,

and he cursed me by his idols.

But I drew his own sword;

I beheaded him, and removed

reproach from the people of Israel.

Whether you think the Apocrypha should be canonical or not, it is a marvelous enhancement to the Scriptures. I’ve always enjoyed reading it, particularly the Wisdom of Solomon and Tobit. This annotated copy of the Revised Standard Version is a great addition to my library.

Finally, I found a copy of the “Abingdon Bible Handbook,” (1975, Abingdon Press) by Edward P. Blair. This will be a useful reference book since it includes nice, brief summaries and backgrounds on each book of the Bible, as well as chapters on Bible translation, interpretation, history, archaeology and chronology.

Well, that’s all for now. Thanks again for hanging with me and I hope to have a lot more interesting things for all of you in the year ahead!

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Book Hunting, Children's Books

 

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Score at the Thrift Store

Score at the Thrift Store

So by now, most of you know that I LOVE to shop for books at thrift and second-hand stores. One of the main reasons is because I just never know what I’m going to find. The element of surprise makes each trip an adventure and when I come across that special book or books, well . . .

Yesterday my wife and I went to the D.A.V. (Disabled American Veterans) Thrift in Prescott. This is one fabulous shop, with all sorts of nifty nic-nacs, old clothes, furniture and, of course, books. And I scored! I found some of the old “Companion Library” series of children’s classics published by Grosset & Dunlap back in the ’60s. What was wonderful about these volumes wasn’t just that they made available some of the all-time best stories for young people, but also the way they did it.

There were two tales per volume, but also two front covers. If you were looking at one cover and you wanted to see the second, instead of just turning it over, you would flip it upside down and THEN turn it over. Hard to explain with words, but if you saw one you’d understand. And these were the full versions of each story, not some abridged one.

So here’s what I snagged: The first volume has Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (it says “Revised and Slightly Abridged”. Oooops!) which was first published in 1727. along with Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The second volume has The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame sharing the covers with Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Finally, the third volume has The Adventures of Pinocchio by C. Collodi (in reality, Carlo Lorenzini, NOT Walt Disney) followed on the reverse side by the Howard Pyle version of The Story of King Arthur and His Knights.

There were several more of these wonderful books on the shelf when I left, but I didn’t want to be greedy. But if they’re still there next time, consider them gone. I’m going to build a nice library for my grandson and these books are a great way to do it!

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2012 in Book Hunting, Children's Books, Old Books

 

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The “Odd” Miscellany

Geek that I am, about two years ago I wrote a fan letter to Dean Koontz. Much to my delight the author had the kindness and grace to write me a personal reply. I also merited a subscription to “Useless News,” Mr. Koontz’s quarterly newsletter which contains updates on his writing projects as well as recently written afterwords from new editions of his novels and other pieces of, well, useless news. But believe me, it’s all very entertaining.

Anyway, I received my Summer 2012 issue the other day and it had a bit of news in it that has me very excited.   One of my favorite Dean Koontz novels will be coming to movie theaters sometime this winter. “Odd Thomas” was directed by Stephen Sommers (of “The Mummy” and “Return of the Mummy”) and stars Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the 2009 film “Star Trek”) as Odd Thomas.

Mr. Koontz was given a preview of the film and, as he describes it, he was “whacked flat by happiness.” This is a major sign of good. He has previously been very disappointed with film versions of his books. Indeed, Hollywood and books have had a long and rocky relationship. Hollywood loves books, but often treats them poorly. Fortunately for us, this book was treated right.

Now there are two major films I have to see this winter: “Odd Thomas” and “The Hobbit.” Can’t wait!

__________

I guess this must be a book and movie kind of day. While roaming through a thrift store yesterday I nabbed a copy of “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende, the award-winning German author of children’s novels. The novel was first published in Germany in 1979 and was made into a movie by Wolfgang Petersen in 1984. The movie was very good, but as the cliché always goes, “the book is so much better!” At least, that’s what I’ve read and been told.

I’ve always wanted to read this book, and for 50 cents the price of admission was right. It’s a Puffin Books paperback bearing the same cover art as the hardback, which is beautiful. My initial skimming of pages was promising. This should be fun!

__________

While I was perusing the used books at the thrift store yesterday, I heard a bright, young voice exclaiming,”That’s BIG book on wizards!” A few minutes later, the voice’s owner and his mom and sister came around the corner.

The boy looked to be about 9 or 10 years-old and he was carrying a plastic basket that was filled with various books. As he walked past I couldn’t resist and asked him, “Hey, buddy. Are all those books yours?”

As he nodded his head happily, he added, “I got a book about dragons, too!” This put a big smile on my face. I gave him the thumbs-up sign and told him, “Keep on reading!”

Things like this give me hope.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2012 in Authors, Book Hunting, Children's Books

 

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Book Hunt 7/28/12: Tales Old And New

Book Hunt 7/28/12: Tales Old And New

 

My wife deserves a medal or some sort of official recognition. Every Saturday I have my errands to run, and inevitably I wind up at the local library to check out the ongoing book sale there. Rarely do I come home empty-handed. I mean, I DO call myself the old book “junkie” for a reason. My wife seldom complains even though we have too few book cases to put them all in.

Yes, I love her.

Had a good hunt today. Found a nice copy of the Reader’s Digest book “American Folklore and Legend” (Reader’s Digest Association, 1978, 1983.) Snicker if you want, but Reader’s Digest publishes some wonderful things and this volume is no exception. It contains many tales and traditions from the earliest days of our country up until the mid-1970s. Fun stuff, yes, but also very important. One of our nation’s biggest problems today is the lack of a national sense of identity, and at least part of the reason for that is we have largely forgotten and ignored our shared stories. Part of this book’s stated goal is to help correct that.

I also grabbed a book by an author I’ve never read before, Michael Chabon. The book is titled “Summerland” (Hyperion, 2004). It’s supposedly a children’s book, but I’ve found that some of my favorite books are those for younger readers. According to the blurb on the back of the book from Time magazine, “Summerland adapts Norse mythology, Native American folklore, American fables, Homeric myth, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, to teach the enduring lessons about finding strength within yourself.”

Sold!

 

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2012 in Book Hunting, Children's Books

 

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What Do You Read on the Fourth of July?

English: Frontispiece of the 1922 edition of R...

English: Frontispiece of the 1922 edition of Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg. Illustration by Maud and Miska Petersham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I realize this may be a rhetorical question. After all, who actually reads on the Fourth? What with picnics and barbecues and trips to the beach or lake, who has time to read, right? Well, maybe the Declaration of Independence, but beyond that?

Yes, I did read the Declaration earlier today. It is still a remarkable piece of writing that retains its strength and relevance for our day. I’ve also been perusing a book called “American Fairy Tales: From Rip Van Winkle to the Rootabaga Stories,” compiled by Neil Philip (Hyperion, 1998.) This is a collection of fairy and fantasy tales by some of America’s finest writers: Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, L. Frank Baum, and Carl Sandburg are just a few of the writers included. The wonders of the American imagination are on full display in this book.

So, if you were going to read something today that represented the American spirit of freedom and independence, what would you choose? Heaven knows, our country has been blessed with some amazing authors. Who would you choose? Would you pick stories from history, or fiction?

What stories speak to you of our country?

 

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