Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Little Island

The Little Island, written by Golden MacDonald and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, won the Caldecott Medal in 1947. It describes the changes on a small island that take place when day turns to night or when the seasons change. Golden MacDonald was a pseudonym for Margaret Wise Brown who wrote Goodnight, Moon. Brown and Weisgard won a Caldecott Honor Medal for another book they worked on together, Little Lost Lamb (1946).

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Peppermint Pig

Finished The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden. Poll's father is wrongly accused of stealing from his place of work. He loses his job and decides to go to America to try his fortunes there. His wife and children leave their comfortable home in London and move in with Aunts Sarah and Henrietta in the country. Life is different, but not terrible. One day the milkman stops by and offers the family a piglet, the runt, too small to be raised by it's mother. They accept it and Poll and the new piglet, Johnnie, form a very close bond.

As Johnnie grows he becomes housebroken and acts much like a family dog. He follows mother on her daily shopping rounds, plays with all the children and sits and stares pensively into the fire. Before Poll and Johnnie met, Poll was not much of a student, but once she has something to look forward to and to be personally responsible for she becomes more focused and mature and begins to make friends at school.

Time passes and Poll wonders if her father will ever come home. She becomes seriously ill with scarlet fever. It takes her a long time to recover. When she is almost better one of her aunts takes her on a visit where she plays with a basketful of puppies. Her aunt tells her she can take one of the puppies home. Poll accepts the puppy, but is mystified. Her aunt says it's a birthday present, but her birthday has already happened.

Poll enjoys spending time with her new puppy and neglects Johnnie a bit. Johnnie is now huge and slow and not nearly as much fun as the puppy. One day Poll comes home from school and Johnnie is gone. He has been sent to the butcher. Mother owes the butcher money and has been having trouble making ends meet. Poll is stunned. She keeps saying "Everyone said Johnnie was different" and she had taken them at their word.

Poll cannot eat. She does not eat for seven days. One of her aunts takes her to the butcher shop to help her grasp the reality of the situation. Poll takes one look at the hanging carcasses and faints dead away.

This all sounds very cruel when I type it. In context it is not as harsh as it sounds. Poll's character, her thoughts and reactions to things are all so well drawn. It's obvious that Nina Bawden has a very strong memory of what is was like to be a child and feel that the whole world is working against you. Her book Carrie's War is one of my favorites.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Thirty-Nine Steps

Finished The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. Gee this was a fun book.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Finished Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was her first novel, published in 1886, long before A Little Princess (1905) and The Secret Garden (1911). It's a lovely, funny book originally published serially in Saint Nicholas Magazine.

Cedric Errol is a seven year old American boy who has been raised modestly by his kind and loving mother. Cedric is handsome, sweet tempered, intelligent, fearless and very sympathetic to those in need. One day a lawyer from England comes to inform his mother that due to the deaths of Cedric's uncles, Cedric himself is in line to be the next Earl of Dorincourt. The current Earl, Cedric's grandfather, wishes to have the boy come to England and be raised in preparation for his new role. He wants nothing to do with Cedric's mother. He was very angry when his favorite son married an American and assumes that she is low and mercenary.

Cedric and his mother travel to England. His mother lives in a lodge on the estate and Cedric lives with his grandfather. The Earl of Dorincourt is a lonely, bitter, difficult old man. No one likes him. Cedric's kindly innocence and generosity towards those less fortunate win him great popularity among the locals. His grandfather is puzzled and amused by these gestures of kindness. They eventually begin to rub off on him. The Earl's life changes far more than Cedric's does. He gains the respect and friendship of those around him. He realizes his mistake in shutting out Cedric's mother and then soon has two loving family members to spend his days with.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Woman in White

Finished The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I could not put this book down. It is an intricate tale of deception told in written accounts by various characters in the novel. It is considered the first detective novel written in English. It was published serially in All the Year Round, Charles Dickens' weekly literary magazine. Collins' novel immediately followed the serialization of A Tale of Two Cities, which I just finished last month. This was not intentional on my part, just an interesting coincidence.

The book's villain, Count Fosco, is one of the most wonderful characters I have ever encountered. He is so eccentric, so audacious and yet so well mannered, I cannot help but love him.

At about the same time that The Woman in White was published as a three volume book, Whistler had an exhibition of paintings in Paris and London. One of the paintings, The White Girl, was assumed by critics to be a representation of the title character from Collins' novel. Whistler was very annoyed by this because the painting had nothing to do with the novel. He renamed the painting Symphony in White, No 1. Sadly, today it is often used as cover art for the book.