Category Archives: children’s books

The angel gave a clue.

One book that I ordered some time ago and that has been sitting on my shelf — I really should write down where I get these book ideas — is the children’s book Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. My paperback copy says on the cover, “60th Anniversary Edition.”  I took to it bed the other night to accompany me instead of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; it’s conveniently lightweight and small.

The story is about an English boy Tom who is quarantined (who knew?) at his aunt and uncle’s house for a couple of weeks when his brother gets the measles. Though he starts out terribly bored in the small flat, he soon begins to have experiences that take him back in history, in a vast garden with a charming playmate. He keeps his nighttime adventures secret, but wonders what is going on; is his friend a ghost?

Toward the end of the story she shows him a Biblical inscription on a grandfather clock, which prompts the children to find a Bible and read the quote in context. They read about a rainbow, angel feet like pillars of fire, and the voices of seven thunders. At the breakfast table next morning Tom asks, “What is time?” It was a gently progressing mystery until that point, when the metaphysical questions intensified:

“Of course,” said Uncle Alan, “it used to be thought…” and Tom listened attentively, and sometimes he seemed to understand, and then, sometimes he was sure he didn’t. “But modern theories of Time,” said Uncle Alan, “the most modern theories…” and Tom began wondering if theories went in and out of fashion, like ladies’ dresses, and then suddenly knew that he couldn’t be attending, and wrenched his mind back, and thought again that he was understanding… and then again was sure he wasn’t, and experienced a great depression.

“I’ve heard a theory, too,” said Tom, while his uncle paused to drink some more tea. “I know an angel — I know of an angel who said that, in the end, there would be Time no longer.”

“An angel!” His uncle’s shout was so explosive that a great deal of tea slopped down his tie, and he was made even angrier to have to mop it up. “What on earth have angels to do with scientific theories?” Tom trembled, and dared not explain that this was more than a theory; it was a blazing, angelic certitude.

More and more clues are added, as Tom’s desperation grows. He does not want to leave the house and go home again, and thinks at one point that he may have figured out Time enough to make it work the way he wants. I won’t tell you the happy ending to this fun story, but I will say it has a lot to do with an old lady’s dreams. And of course, the mystery of Time is not ever truly solved. It’s metaphysical!

Matthias Gerung, 1500-1570

How to (not) write the best story.

The latest book I’ve been listening to if I can’t sleep is The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit. I read it once before to my children long ago, and didn’t remember any details. I love it very much, this story of the adventures of three kind and resourceful children whose father was mysteriously called away, they don’t know why or how long. Because of this the family has suddenly become much poorer, and they have had to move to the country. Their new house is near the railroad, and their days become centered around trains, and the people they meet at the station or in the neighborhood..

Last night I was struck by a passage that portrays a poignant moment in which a parent passes on her faith in a very honest and personal way.

It is close to the end of the book, when the reader knows that the father must be going to return any day, because there aren’t many pages left. 10-year-old Peter interrupts his mother while she is writing and speaks wistfully about how hard it is being the only man in the house:

“I say,” said Peter musingly, “wouldn’t it be jolly if we all were in a book and you were writing it; then you could make all sorts of jolly things happen, and make Jim’s legs get well at once and be all right tomorrow, and Father would come home soon and….”

“Do you miss your father very much?” Mother asked….

“Awfully,” said Peter briefly… “You see,” Peter went on slowly, “you see, it’s not only him being Father, but now he’s away there’s no other man in the house but me…. Wouldn’t you like to be writing that book with us all in it, Mother, and make Daddy come home soon?”

Peter’s mother put her arm around him suddenly and hugged him in silence for a minute. Then she said, “Don’t you think it’s rather nice to think that we’re in a book that God’s writing? If I were writing the book I might make mistakes, but God knows how to make the story end just right, in the way that’s best for us.”

“Do you really believe that, Mother?” Peter asked quietly.

“Yes,” she said, “I do believe it, almost always — except when I’m so sad that I can’t believe anything. But even when I can’t believe it, I know it’s true, and I try to believe. You don’t know how I try, Peter. Now, take the letters to the post, and don’t let’s be sad anymore. Courage! Courage! That’s the finest of all the virtues…”

At least a poem or a paragraph.

I read on dictionary.com that this is National Read a Book Day. Do they want us to read an entire book? I might be able to do that if it’s one I picked up at the library yesterday, Phineas L. MacGuire Gets Cooking, by Frances O’Roark Dowell. I think I need to read at least a book per year by this author, to keep me grounded in the reality of middle schoolers. I’ve been slipping, though, probably because there is a gap right now in the ages of my seventeen grandchildren. The youngest of the older bunch is sixteen, and the oldest of the younger bunch is ten. The ten-year-old does love science and cooking, and would probably enjoy Phineas, and it’s always fun for me to read a title or two from the latest book loves of the children.

In the past I have read books in Erin Hunter’s Warriors cat series with Pat, and shared the fun of the Magic Treehouse books with his younger brother. Some of you might remember when I listened to Dowell’s book Anybody Shining with Maggie, not long after her grandpa’s passing. That was a first time for both of us for that story, and it was just right.

This perfect booksharing experience happened again a couple of years later when I introduced Pippin’s children to the Finn Family Moomintroll. According to the recommended age it was too advanced for them, but I went with my tendency to give the children material they might have to stretch a bit to appreciate, and to read books that I personally love. That time I don’t think they had to stretch at all to find a lot of “fruit” that was very tasty, and all the more so for being enjoyed together.

I am running on slow speed today, having stayed up way too late laughing with old friends and giving them a garden tour. We ate pizza and talked about many books, and watched videos of my late husband singing. Then we sang together ourselves, old songs from our common repertoire, drawing from the traditions of Jesus-people and the oldest American folksingers. They brought me this book of poems by Wendell Berry.

So I had already thought it might be a good day for reading. 🙂

 

Popsicles and pastimes of summer.

“Grandma, look at that wasp!” This colorful insect was resting near us on a geranium leaf.

“I’m impressed that you know that is a wasp, Ivy. Lots of people call all bees and wasps ‘bees.'”

“Bees have hair,” she informed me, “and wasps don’t.” The supposed wasp had floated away to a lamb’s ear flower, but not before I’d snapped its picture, wondering why it was so lazy and unthreatening, unlike our ubiquitous yellow jackets who seem only to rest when they perch on the rim of my fountain for a drink. We zoomed in on my picture to see that indeed, it was pretty bald — but maybe not entirely. After looking at more pictures of wasps online, I’ve decided this is very likely not a wasp after all, but a syrphid or hover fly. It’s more like a fly in its shape and wings, and pictures of syrphid flies came up as “yellow jacket look-alikes.” On the other hand, this insect approaching the salvia has more the look of a wasp, with its legs dangling down:

But as an example of hairy bees, I showed Ivy a picture of my favorite bee of all, which you might have seen here recently in a slightly different pose. She definitely has the darling fuzzy hairs:

It’s always fun for me if the grandchildren are visiting during hot weather. Popsicles and water play and the play house keep them happy outdoors, where I can play also, doing little garden tasks and walking back and forth to the clothesline with the towels and swimsuits. And many pairs of shorts, because Jamie was too tidy a boy to endure having popsicle drips drying, as I thought harmlessly, on his clothes. Eventually I gave him a bib, a largish bowl for his lap, and a spoon, so he could enjoy the treat to the fullest.

When the sun is baking all the air and sucking up moisture, I think it the most fun ever to wash a little shirt or whatever in the kitchen sink and hang it on the line. One shirt didn’t get that far, but dried in no time draped over a pomegranate bush.

I clipped my fast-growing butternut vines to the trellis, and swept the patio while the children sat in the old galvanized trough we call the Duck Pond, named for its use in another time and place, keeping three ducks happy in what was mainly a chicken pen.

Ivy played in the “pond” by herself one afternoon while Jamie napped, and I sat nearby rereading passages in Middlemarch. She found the tiniest spider floating in the water and held it on her finger, wondering if it were dead. “Why don’t you put it on a hydrangea leaf, and maybe it will revive,” I suggested. Of course, I took a picture of it on the leaf, because neither of us could see the minute creature very well with our eyes only.

When I zoomed in on my photo, it revealed a flower with eight petals. 🙂

At the patio table a few feet away I trimmed my six Indigo Spires salvia starts that I had propagated from a branch I accidentally broke off several months ago; I’m reluctant to transplant them to 4″ pots during this hot month, but that’s probably what they need…

Having gained confidence about African violets from a Martha Stewart video that I watched a few weeks ago, I tackled my plant that had grown two baby plants, one of which was already blooming. The babies I managed to cut off with roots attached, and potted them up snugly.

 

We thought to walk to the library, but the tires on the Bob stroller were too flat and I didn’t feel like pumping them up, so we drove. It happened to be a craft day there, and Ivy wanted to do all the things — but first, to design a Loch Ness monster from clay, because she said she had recently watched a video about that creature. Jamie patiently held the monster and observed, while she went on to make a jeweled crown and a flag.

 

The children actually looked up unprompted into the dome of the kids’ room at the library, and we talked about the stories pictured. I picked out some books to borrow but wasn’t thrilled with the three we read later at home. What I did love was a book someone gave me recently — was it one of you? — titled Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Taback. I read it twice to the children, because they liked it, too.

Joseph seems to be a Jewish man, and his overcoat gets tattered, so he cuts it down to a jacket, and when that gets overpatched, into a scarf, and so on. When he ends up with nothing at the end, it seems he doesn’t exactly have nothing after all. Good-natured resourcefulness and humor make for a charming story. I loved the ending, and the proverbs and sayings, and the many unique outfits and beard styles and colorful details. Joseph looks like this every time he realizes that his garment needs altering>>

Some of the artwork includes photographs in collage. I think if I were Jewish I might enjoy the book even more because I suspect that the photographs might be of famous people pertinent to Jewish history and culture.

A typical proverb quoted in a frame on the wall of Joseph’s house,
showing barely over an inch square on the page:

Over four days I read lots more books, like In Grandma’s Attic, The Ugly Duckling, Finn Family Moomintroll, a Thomas the Tank Engine collection (not my favorite, but a chance for Jamie to share with me his vast knowledge about that series), and one that I’ve read more than once to them via FaceTime, How Pizza Came to Queens. I got out my collection of costume jewelry, much of which used to be my grandma’s, and which I keep in her broken down jewelry box; and my small group of Moomin figures, and puzzles that are many decades old, but The Best and treasured.

One morning we cleaned in and around the playhouse
before eating a breakfast of sourdough pancakes in the garden:

With more washing up afterward…

As I was showing Ivy some rosemary and oregano she might pick for pretend cooking in the playhouse, I glanced up and gasped so that she started. “My milkweed bloomed!” She looked on admiringly and I told her that I had seen the same species of milkweed growing wild near her house up north.

Ivy and Jamie departed with their mama this morning, and I’ve been transitioning back into my quieter life. They all were the best company for kicking off summer.