Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Picture Books About London

In continued preparations for our upcoming trip to England I hunted down a few picture books about the city. I have to confess to you that we're not really big city people and the idea of London is somewhat loathsome when consider navigating crowds with small children. We won't be spending a whole lot of time there, but will instead be exploring elsewhere. Nevertheless, it seemed almost sacrilegious to go to England without stopping in London for at least a few days. We do have a couple of activities planned and some sight seeing to do there but we'll be operating more on a "get in, get out" mindset.

My belief is that one of the best ways you can prepare your kids for any sort of journey is to read books about it. Not only is this a convenient and informative method of transferring information to kids, but it's also just plan, good fun.

The first book I picked up was This is London, by M. Sasek. It was first published in 1959 and while some of the information is slightly outdated (e.g., the number of official residents is likely greater than in 1959) the majority of the book is very helpful in giving children an overview of what to expect to see when in this famous city.

The illustrations in This is London can now be considered retro and is therefore cool enough to have been picked up for republication in 2004. You shouldn't have too hard a time locating a copy of this title if you are interested in it and in the reading you'll become familiar with places such as St. Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the Thames, Tower Bridge, Hyde Park, and etc.

The second book I'd recommend is called A Walk in London and it was written and illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino. This book is similar to This is London in that Rubbino is interested in offering an overview of London to the young reader. Many of of the same places are mentioned, but repetition never hurt anyone (most of the time).

The difference between this book and the other is that Rubbino wants to tell the readers about London through story (whereas Sasek pretty much sticks to plain facts). In Rubbino's book we visit with a young girl and her mother as they explore the area, visiting places like St. James Park, Covent Garden Piazza and the Underground Bank. Despite these two books having a similar feel to them, and do overlap a bit, they each contain enough different information to make them both worthwhile.

Lastly, we just received a copy of The Queen's Hat, by Steve Antony in the mail from Scholastic Books. What beautiful timing!

This title is just for fun. The Queen is on her way "to visit someone very special" when the wind suddenly sweeps the hat off of her head. The Queen and "the Queen's men" begin chasing her hat all over London (introducing us to landmarks, along the way) until it finally lands on that very special person - the royal baby. All's well that ends well, as they say. The illustrations are what makes this book, in my opinion. The Queen's men can be seen by the hundreds, crawling all over the pages. Their bright red uniforms stand in nice contrast to the simple, faded line drawings which outline streets and buildings in the background. My kids loved this book and I must confess that I did also. I found it altogether adorable and would highly recommend it.

Many thanks to Scholastic Books for sending a copy of The Queen's Hat my direction in order to facilitate a review. I received no additional compensation and these opinions are our very own.

Whether traveling to London or studying up on England and its history, these are books I feel very safe in recommending to others as being useful. Enjoy!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

I think you can't go to England unless and until you brush up on your Jane Austen. Hence, I picked up Persuasion as I honestly can't remember when the last time was that I read it. It's entirely possible that I have never read it, although I do feel quite certain that I watched the BBC production.

Alas, our visit to England does not involve a visit to the Lake District for the simple reason that we lack the time. If we wish to see that, we'll have to go back again. (I have no objections to this idea.) Picking and choosing the places we most wanted to visit, I think you could consider our upcoming travels to be more history based than literary. Still, I maintain that you really can't consider a trip to England without reading some Austen.

Persuasion was a delightful read. I say that not being a devoted Austen fan. I tend to leave wide gaps between my Austen books but having just finished Persuasion I'm not totally sure why that is. My last read was Emma back in 2012. Three years! Mildly ridiculous. However it was a happy accident than I picked Persuasion without realizing that this was the novel that Austen wrote on the heels of completing Emma. Persuasion is also Austen's final, completed novel to write (but hopefully not mine to read).

Anne Elliot of Kellynch Hall is the main female character in this novel. She is 27 years old, unmarried and unloved by her widowed father or either of her ridiculous sisters. She has but one friend, a Lady Russell who was friends with Anne's deceased mother. Although Lady Russell might mean well, she had previously persuaded a 19-year old Anne to break off an engagement with the man she loved, Frederick Wentworth. At the time, Wentworth had no name and no connections. Lady Russell did not think him a suitable match. In his distress over the broken relationship and his determination to prove Lady Russell wrong, he went out into the world to seek his fortune and found it. Now these many years have passed and circumstances bring Anne and Frederick into the same society again and there is great tension over whether or not they will end up together again. This is Austen though which makes it entirely predictable. The joy is in Austen's ability to turn a phrase and fill her stories with deep emotion and great hilarity. She is altogether charming and reading her books are such a pleasure.

Not that I'm the world's greatst advocate for reading Austen, seeing that I leave such large gaps between my reads, but if you haven't read an Austen then do try one! Any will do. They are each fun in their own way. I'm glad to have spent some time with Austen again and I'm also glad to know that there are several additional titles that I still have to look forward to re-reading.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Laddie: A True Blue Story, by Gene Stratton Porter

To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to reading Laddie, by Gene Stratton Porter. Just a couple of years back, we in this book club read A Girl of the Limberlost and I can't say that I cared for it all that much. (The thing I did appreciate about that read was it "forcing" me to learn more about the author. I included several facts about her in my review of Limberlost which you might find interesting still.) This to say, it was not with high hopes that I approached Laddie. I read it in advance of this month because I sort of just wanted to get the read over with and not dread it until the last week of August. In retrospect, I'm chuckling at myself. Almost from the first page I absolutely loved this book and I can honestly say that I enjoyed every minute of it! (Thus giving me hope for Porter in general.)

Laddie was first published in 1913 and would seem to be the endearing sort of classic that everyone loves and no one hates. If you look at the Goodreads reviews, you'll note that this title receives high marks all around. In this story we are told about the Stanton family of Indiana through the eyes of their youngest daughter. Our narrator is known to us throughout the book as "Little Sister" and she comments on the adventures and escapades of both her parents, her older brothers and sisters, and the family's neighbors. This book is part romance, part adventure, part pioneer story and is generally plain, good fun.

Laddie is not only the title of the book but also the name of Little Sister's favorite older brother and it is this person that this story revolves around to a great degree. Laddie can do no wrong in his sister's eyes and they tend to wrap each other up in one another's doings and are great for keeping secrets with and for the other. Laddie's most important secret is that he has fallen in love with the new neighbors' daughter, Pamela Pryor. He doesn't necessarily want his parents to know just yet because he is unsure of his lady love's returned affections.  The Pryor family are not just new to the area, but prove shamefully unsocial and almost belligerent in the face of Christianity. Being that the Stanton family are devout believers, Laddie is taking his time in informing his family of his attachment simply because he knows that Pamela's family and his own might harbor huge objections to the match and he is hoping that time and care will heal a few wounds, bring light to darkness, and clarify the future.

Laddie's romantic pursuits make up a good portion of the book but there is also some adventure available through another of Little Sister's brothers. I don't want to give away all of the plot so I'll keep this short and sweet by letting you know that there is some lawbreaking going on and some tense moments for the pioneers who are hard at work building community with one another. I personally found this book to be very exciting and engaging. I found the characters to be easy to identify with and find sympathy for, no matter their position within the community.

I liked Laddie so much that I can see myself re-reading it. It didn't feel as forcefully fake or phony as A Girl of the Limberlost read off to me. (I'm aware that by saying that much, I'm offending a few who might find this other story of Porter's to be perfection itself. I'm sorry! Reader preference!) I found Laddie to be far superior in terms of story telling. It was less poetic, more straight forward prose, and was much more complex, with several of the storylines being combined together in a clever plot twist at the end. As a reader, I felt amply satisfied. I don't know how to explain it really, except to say that it feels like Porter thought through this story a little bit more. If all of her books were like this one, I can see myself liking her without exception.

There is still time in this month for you to get to this read if you haven't already. If you haven't, I highly recommend that you strive to do so. I think you'll find yourself delighted.

Thanks Heather for selecting this read for it! I'm much obliged for the nudge to read another of Porter's works.

Reading to Know - Book Club

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lilliput, by Sam Gayton

Lilliput, by Sam Gayton, arrived on my doorstep unrequested. While it looked interesting, I really didn't feel as if I had the time to invest in it. Ultimately I decided to give it a go and if I didn't like it for whatever reason, I wouldn't feel compelled to finish it.

Lilliput falls under the category of "fan fiction" which, quite frankly, is something I just don't understand. If you love an original work so well, why tamper with it? Why not just let it stand, as the original author intended? After concluding this book (because yes, I did read the entire thing all the way through!) I decided that I just oppose fan fiction when it involves my favorite books and authors. If you aren't messing around with any of my favorites, then it's all good. Sam Gayton remains in my good graces for he only dabbled around with Gulliver's Travels which I remember distinctly not liking when my mother forced me to read it in middle school. (I've already confessed about what a bad attitude I had towards classics growing up. It could very well be that if I re-read Gulliver's Travels of my own free will, I'd find it quite delightful. But I don't know if any of us will ever find that out.)

Lilliput is inspired by Jonathan Swift's original work which was published back in 1726. I didn't realize then (too young, too immature) that Gulliver's Travels is a satirical work speaking out against the Whig political party principles. (That's all I can really tell you about that as I don't feel up to investigating all of the whys and wherefores.) Swift wrote his story about Gulliver who goes about adventuring and lands on an island called Lilliput which is full of tiny people. Gayton picks up the story of one Lillput named Lily who is captured by Gulliver and taken back to England as proof of his journeys. He keeps her locked up in a bird cage in his attic apartment for 6 of her years until she finally makes an escape, wishing to return to her homeland.

I found Lilliput to be rather clever and highly entertaining. (I dare say I liked it better than my experience with the original but I wouldn't say that counts for much. Bad attitudes get in the way of good judgement sometimes. The longer this review gets the more guilty I feel for not ever having re-read Gulliver's Travels!) Lily undergoes some serious difficulties in escaping from Gulliver who, it is explained, is a man of science and wishes to make sense out of the world and prove himself to his fellow citizens, all of whom have written him off as being a lunatic. He needs to keep Lily to prove the truth of his experiences when traveling. Lily ultimately escapes with the help of a young man named Finn who lives below her in a local clockmaker's shop. Finn is also a prisoner, being kept as a slave by said clockmaker to do his bidding. Both of them desire freedom and it's through teamwork that they ultimately achieve it.

As I said, this is a very entertaining and engaging story and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It does have one particular theme which makes for talking points should you wish to read this for yourself or hand it over to your children. Lily, a prisoner, realizes that she's not the only one in the world who is trapped into bad circumstances.

"She learned that the world was full of cages, and not all were built of iron. Some where made of lies or promises or secrets or questions." (Chapter 15, Wound-Down Clocks & a Waste-Not Watch, pages 90-91)

This theme pops up with some degree of regularity causing the reader to pause and try to understand what point the author is wishing to make. Do I think that it is true that we are all "caught in cages" of various sorts? Maybe. Do I think that is a politically charged question at the moment and modern literature is trying to subtly (or not) create such questions in a young reader's mind? Yes, I do. Several years ago I was reading a piece of modern literature that had some subtle passage referencing that one character was a homosexual. I remember thinking, "ah! It starts! Publishers will be working to make this the norm and not the exception." In 2015 we find this very much to be the norm and there are usually several homosexual characters present in books. There is no longer any subtly. And why need there be? Better to say it outright and upfront. It's easier to be honest than to lie. Always easier. I wish they had been bolder faster, truthfully.

I have to stop and ask myself about Lilliput what the main point the author is trying to get across in this present day. Are will still locked in boxes, afraid to be the real us? Is that the point? Is it a political point or a moral one? If he's arguing a moral point then things become much more interesting to me and this would be how I would approach the book with my own kids. Lies and secrets are never beneficial and will hurt you dreadfully. Telling the truth about what you are thinking or feeling is infinitely better, although at first glance it may appear to be the harder thing. Ultimately, it is the truth that unlocks prison doors and let's us live free from a bad conscious which should be something we absolutely should work hard to do. Likewise, it is better to ask our questions aloud, with the most accurate wording to express our true meaning as possible. That is how we help minds to meet and deal with issues together in a way that is beneficial. Subtleties and slights of hands are not at all helpful.

Again, I really don't know what point Gayton is ultimately trying to make. I just pause and question him, "Where are you going with this?" because modern books which are published these days give tips and clues to the direction people are heading. What Gayton wants to make his reader think about is important to know and understand. At the very least, no matter this meaning, I think this book requires discussion between kids and parents.

My only other objection is found in the potty humor, which surfaces a time or two. I marked down the most eye-rolling passage which I really just don't find to be a necessity when story telling. If these are the descriptions that you feel need to be included in order to keep your audience captivated then you might be a flat out bad story teller to begin with. But Gayton is not a bad storyteller. He's a really good one! So why he stooped to passages such as these is a little beyond me:

"Mr. Plinker stank of rot and swamps. The clock maker could always be identified by his farts, which came out in great gut-tearing torrents, as if his trousers had ripped." (Chapter 10, Seventeen Steps & a Stranger, page 60)

My apologies for putting that into your mind. But parents need to know that it's there.

Gayton, if you read this, you have such great talent as a story teller! I'd read any book that was placed into my hands with your name on it. Skip the potty talk. It's really beneath the best and you are one of the modern bests in my opinion.

It's hard to find a piece of middle grade fiction which appeals to a reader's imagination and thought processes. Thanks to the questions about prisons, this book is full of serious questions and a good discussion. Coupled with the fact that it's entertaining and well thought through, it makes for a marvelous book. I wish it didn't include farts but it does. That's my biggest complaint. Will my kids laugh at it? Yeah. But do they need to? The book is good enough with out it.

Would I recommend this book to others? Well, I wouldn't give it as a gift to anyone because I don't know that they would necessarily like it. I think its fantastic for a selective audience but I'd be choosy who I presented it to as a good read because, as I mentioned, there are exceptions that I take to. That said, it is an interesting read and if you think you could overlook the base humor at certain points, give it a read. I'd be very curious for your thoughts!

Many thanks to Peachtree Publishers who sent a copy of this title in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and, should you have the slightest doubt on the matter, please let me assure you that all opinions expressed above are 1000% my very own.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Visiting Prince Edward Island

Last week I took you through a little tour of Anne's Land on Prince Edward Island. We visited the following places together:

As mentioned, we spent just one day visiting the Anne sites and several others exploring the rest of the Island. If you are curious to read/hear more about that, you can follow us at which is our family travel blog. Here are a few direct links to posts I think you'll find rather interesting if you are at all curious about the Island.

Bonus photos:

Random shoreline along some "shoreline road" in the Eastern side of the Island.

Does anyone recognize this lighthouse? It's the Seacow Head Lighthouse and appeared as "Gus Pike's Lighthouse" in the Road to Avonlea television series.

And I touched it. 

West Point Lighthouse:

Last night sunset walk:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Visiting Lower Bedeque Schoolhouse

Honestly, this stop was not at all on my radar when we made our trip to Prince Edward Island. I was thinking that most Anne-related and Montgomery sites would take place in the Cavendish area. We moved away from that side of the Island for the second half of our stay because we wanted to see other parts of the Island.

We weren't actually being very choosey in where we planned to stay during the second half but landed at a Bed and Breakfast in Bedeque. The significance of the name didn't even cross my mind until I saw a road sign pointing us to Lucy Maud Montgomery's Lower Bedeque Schoolhouse. Well! I had to see it, of course! After all, we were right there! We followed the signs and sought the school house out.

By way of explanation, this old one room schoolhouse was built in 1886 by local residents. Montgomery taught here during the 1896-97 school year until she was abruptly called back home to Cavendish upon the death of her grandfather Macneill. Although her time at the Lower Bedeque Schoolhouse was short, her life experiences there were quite exciting.

While teaching in this location, Montgomery boarded with the Cornelius Leard family. She fell in love with the Leard's oldest son, Herman. Theirs is rather a tragic love story. She was secretly engaged to another at the time (one Edward Simpson) which she ultimately ended calling off. Herman occupied a great many of her thoughts and emotions for a good bit of time. Ultimately she decided that he was not as educated as she was and rather looked down on his status in life in general and so felt the need to bring their relationship to a close. (You can read more about all of this in Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings. Linked to my review.) Herman died of influenza in 1899 and Montgomery was distraught over this death. Ultimately we know that she ended up marrying Ewan Macdonald. I'm not convinced at all that that was a brilliant match or that she wouldn't have been better off with Herman, but what can be done about that? Choices, choices!

Getting back to the Lower Bedeque Schoolhouse -

It is operated as a museum when it is operated at all. We came to understand from the owners at our Bed and Breakfast that the lady who opened and ran the museum had moved away somewhat recently and that she is currently trying to find someone else to operate the facility. At the current moment, it is a charming and isolated closed schoolhouse, desperately in want of visitors. It was a delight to be able to see it and take a peek in the windows but I wish we could have gone in. Ah well. We were on sight and I did take pictures! That counts for something, right?

Although we were not able to go inside, I was happy to have at least seen it. I ended well satisfied - especially as this was a "bonus stop" along the way and not something I had gone into the trip expecting. We'll call it a "cherry on the top" and enjoy it.

Now, I would be a bit remiss if I didn't tell you about the Bed and Breakfast we stayed at while in this area. If you read this post thoroughly, you'll find something delicious to note about this particular B&B which was also a huge surprise to me and delighted me greatly!

Click here to read our review/thoughts on Briarcliffe Inn in Bedeque, PEI.

Thus brings our Anne tour to an official end, although I might have a few more pictures and links to share next week. Hope you've enjoyed this brief glimpse at the Island!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Visiting Park Corner (aka Silver Bush)

You'll recall that yesterday we visited the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery. I mentioned that upon our arrival at this destination we found the house inundated with tourists who had arrived on two (huge!) tour buses. Clearly they were making the same stops as ourselves. On our way from the birthplace to Park Corner we passed the buses which filled my heart with a smidgeon of hope. We pulled into the parking lot at Park Corner and with a leap and a bound I exited the car so I could get inside the Silver Bush house before anyone else.

The Park Corner house was extremely significant in the life of L.M. Montgomery. It was home to members from her father's family, the Campbells. She called this place her "wonder castle" and here she enjoyed many fun visits with her cousins, one of whom was her best friend in all the world ("Frede"). This home was featured in the books Mistress Pat and Pat of Silver Bush (both linked to my reviews) making it a literary point of reference in the world of Montgomery.

Really I was quite frantic to look the place over myself before it became so crowded that it would be hard to enjoy anything. Jonathan stayed outside while I ran in, made very hasty apologies for my apparent rush, paid the fee, and asked the direction of the parlor which, if nothing else, I wanted to see in peace and quiet. Why the parlor, you ask? Because that's the room where Lucy Maud Montgomery married Ewan Macdonald on July 5, 1911.

Before I show pictures I have to tell you that this place is pure magic. It's run as a museum but there were no ropes keeping visitors out of rooms. You were able to wonder freely and touch things up close and personal. Because of the freedoms allowed to guests, you are able to feel the magic that exists inside of this house and are better able to understand what Montgomery would have loved about it. If I were to have had a "holy moment" when it came to encountering Montgomery or her past, I would have to say it happened at Park Corner.

As I was saying, I rushed to the parlor first, desperate for a private glimpse. Gratefully, the tourist bus occupants decided to visit the little shop outside of the house before they came in, so I had plenty of time to just stand still in the parlor, walk slowly around the perimeter and drink it in.

It's so very amazing to think that Montgomery stood in this room. She married here, right in front of the fireplace. (Yes I did touch the mantel! Feeling like it was a safe bet that she had touched it herself, I had to also.)

The very same organ that was played on Montgomery's wedding day is still in the room and is occasionally played during wedding ceremonies of Japanese tourists who make a frequently habit of flying to PEI for the specific purpose of getting married in the same parlor. The furniture in this room is also the same as it was in Montgomery's day.

The most exciting piece of furniture (for me) was "Anne's Enchanted Bookcase." Here is the little sign that is resting up against the glass on the bookshelf:

I found my own Katie Maurice and then walked back to stand in the doorway and just imagined a young Lucy Maud running into the room and waving to her imaginary friend.

Honestly I didn't really want to leave that room. There was just something about having the liberty to walk where she walked and be where she loved to be. The room was mine for a little while and I can safely assure you that I enjoyed each moment.

Facts being what they are, I still had a tourist bus to beat upstairs so I made my way up the staircase. At the top was a mirror from her Grandfather MacNeill's home. Little Lucy Maud would look into it and check her appearance before hurrying off to school in the morning. It was moved to the Park Corner house and, well, here I am squinting into it.

Just below the mirror is a little nob sticking out from the wall. Montgomery used to measure her height by that nob on the staircase. Again, you could just feel her running about, loving the knooks and crannies of this home full of cousins and laughter. Knowing how hard various aspects of her life were, I think I just enjoyed being in a place where I knew that she was truly happy and had good friends. Everyone needs a good friend in life and this is where Montgomery's lived. It's a special place.

At the top of the stairs on the left is the bedroom where Montgomery stayed when she was visiting the family.

I was blissfully happy to be left alone in here as well. Again, there are no ropes holding you back from anything. You can stand right next to the bed where she slept, or glance out the window and take in the view just as she would have done. If any tourist ever acts stupidly and does something to hurt this house, steals from it, or in any way causes people to feel that they ought to rope things off I say 'a pox upon them!' It is so lovely to be so trusted to respectfully visit this home. I hardly have words to describe it. I'm so GLAD for the opportunity to have seen it all in the manner that I did. I felt like the owners of the house understand that people love Montgomery and that they not only allow for it, but encourage us to go on doing it. That's a gift, that's what!

One exciting footnote, of sorts, was this dress which is kept in a glass case in the corner of Montgomery's bedroom. This'll give a few people a thrill, I know:

At this point I could hear a throng of footsteps approaching so I took a lovely last gaze around the room and excused myself to look quickly down the hall. A few more items of note:

By the time I was at the end of the short hallway, footsteps were headed up the stairs and I literally squeezed myself back outside and found Jonathan. He spent his time out-of-doors photographing the house, the Lake of Shining Waters, and a horse. I'm so glad I have a husband who understands my obsessions so well and was happy to let me revel in happiness indoors and wait for me patiently (and so productively too!) outdoors. He made time for what I love. That's so kind.

The Lake of Shining Waters

Truly, it was a wonderful stop.

Tomorrow I'll take you to the Lower Bedeque Schoolhouse where Montgomery taught school, but if you are interested in hearing a little bit more about Anne's World today, then head over and check out this post wherein I wrote up our experience visiting Orwell Corner Historic Village over at our family's travel blog, (Hint: fans of the Road to Avonlea television series will be intrigued.)

Until tomorrow then . . .

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