Monday, May 19, 2008

The Marvelous Land of Oz

Finished The Marvelous Land of Oz, the second of L. Frank Baum's 14 Oz books. It was delightful. I read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz aloud to my daughter about eight years ago and at the time was surprised by the violence of the book. I suspect she was just too young for it. There did not appear to be any unnecessary violence in this book. It's very fanciful and humorous, with unique characters who are brought to life by a magic powder. Jack Pumpkinhead and the sawhorse are especially amusing. The illustrations for this and all of the following Oz books were drawn by John R. Neill, who years later actually wrote a few Oz books himself. These black and white drawings are so charming and plentiful, they really added to my enjoyment of the book.

There are many feminist undertones to the story. Tip, the main character of the book, is really a princess transformed into a boy (unbeknownst to him/her), Jinjur's army of girls which dethrones the Scarecrow seems a bit of a joke with their vain priorities and their knitting needles for weapons. However, Glinda's army of women with sabers is very professional and efficient.

Glinda, Tip, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man (aka Jack Chopper), Jack Pumpkinhead, the Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated Wogglebug and the Sawhorse are all trying to locate Ozma, the lost Princess of Oz. They suspect that Mombi the witch knows where the princess is and try to question her about this. Mombi works various transformations of herself and others to fool Glinda. Glinda is too clever to be fooled for long and at one point remarks that no self respecting sorceress would work a transformation because it is dishonest. This line really stood out to me.

When I was little I used to be dropped off for story hour on Saturday morning at the Children's Room of the Nantucket Atheneum. They had all the Oz books in hardcover on a shelf. I used to look at them lined up, with a character's face on each spine, and long to read them all someday. I guess I will.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Ageless Story

Finished The Ageless Story by Lauren Ford. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1940. This is a strange book. It begins with a letter from Ford to her goddaughter, telling her about Gregorian chants and how they were almost lost during the Renaissance. Next follows the legend of Saint Anne followed by the story of the life of the Christ Child in the words of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke. The text is quite small and tight. After all this text there are facing pages with illuminated Gregorian chants (score included) and very detailed illustrations for The Ageless Story with captions underneath. The illustrations are the oddest part. They depict the story of the birth of Christ and his boyhood, but seem to be set in 19th Century New England.

When the angel appears to Saint Anne in the garden there is a large green watering can with a red "A" on it (um, hmmmm.....bizarre Hester Prin reference???) When the Virgin Mary is born there are patchwork quilts all over the bedroom. Houses in the background of the illustrations are white clapboard with green shutters. When the angel appears to the Virgin Mary, Mary is dressed in an Amish style outfit with a halo above her little white cap. Joseph appears in several pictures in what looks like a mohair coat and carrying a red and green carpet bag. As Jesus grows to be a young boy the family is shown sitting in a New England parlor with a grandfather clock, a kerosene lamp and ornate wallpaper on the wall. I'm sure that these illustrations are engaging for children in their gentleness and intense detail, but the whole thing seems a bit surreal to me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Forest Pool

Finished The Forest Pool, written and illustrated by Laura Adams Armer. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1939. Set in Mexico, it is the story of Diego and his friend Popo who try to catch an iguana to have in the little zoo they have planned in the garden. The illustrations are soft and vague and vividly colorful. After a failed attempt to lure the iguana home with an orange from the garden, Diego's father brings the iguana home for Diego to hold. In the end the iguana runs away into the woods. Diego's mother tells him, "The iguana must live in the dark woods my child. It is not good to keep him in a zoo....You must learn, too, that everything must be free to live in its own home in its own way." Well said.

Another interlibrary loan, this book came from the Education Library at Wayne State University in Detroit. The edition I read was printed in 1938 and has the same cover you see here. Laura Adams Armer also won the Newbery Medal in 1932 for her book Waterless Mountain.

Laughing Boy

Finished Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge. It won the Pulitzer in 1930. It's the story of a young Navajo man who marries a woman who was born a Navajo, but who was taken from her family and sent to an an American school as a young girl. There she was made to turn her back on her heritage and assimilate. When she meets Laughing Boy she feels that she has finally found someone to bring her back to the Navajo way of life. The novel is the story of their relationship. It is an interesting juxtaposition of American and Native American culture in the early 20th century.

I liked this book. It was an easy read. There were moments of personal honor that reminded me of Shane. La Farge was concerned with the rights of Native Americans and served as president of the Association on American Indian Affairs.