A Texas Twist

A gazillion years ago, I spent most of a semester reading the Dear America books.  Officially, it was for a grad school paper, but I was also kinda curious.  (I’ve now just spent 10 minutes looking for said paper, because I’m totally the kind of person to keep such things.  But I can’t find it anywhere.  And as it was at least 3 computers ago, I definitely don’t have a digital version.)  In the early 2000s, these books had just burst on the scene and were lauded as some magical device to get kids to like history.  After all, once you read the one about the Titanic, why wouldn’t you immediately go read about the Carlisle Indian School?

There are, of course, two flaws in this particular system.  One is that only true history nerds are going to read all of them, and most kids will probably pick and choose, based on the time periods they’re interested in.  The second is that all of them are written by different people, and some of them are a lot better than others.  What if a kid gets bogged down in one with a terrible plot, even though it’s good history?  Again, totally wishing I could find that paper so then I could quote some of the clever observations I made 10+ years ago.  (see, this obsession with kidlit history is long-standing!)

Get Along, Little Dogies: The Chisholm Trail Diary of Hallie Lou WellsAt any rate, I was reminded of that long ago paper a few weeks ago, when I finally read the first volume of the Lone Star Journals, Get Along, Little Dogies: The Chisholm Trail Diary of Hallie Lou Wells.  Unlike the Dear America series, these are all written by the same author, Lisa Waller Rogers.  But they’re definitely in a similar mold–a fictional diary with some additional background information at the end.  There are two others in the series–one about the Runaway Scrape after the fall of the Alamo and one about the Galveston Hurricane.  And, of course, even more importantly, they’re about my home state of Texas.

As you might suspect, Get Along, Little Dogies is about a girl who gets to go on a cattle drive.  She’s an accomplished horsewoman, kinda annoyed that she’s a girl, and eager for the adventure.  Along the way, they run into outlaws, Indians, and all the other things you might expect to happen in such a book.  It’s a good, quick read, and the supplemental information includes background on the Chisholm Trail, women on cattle drives (including one of my favorite Texas women, Lizzie Johnson Williams), and lots of photos.  My only quibble with this book is that Hallie found serious romance on the trail–and she’s only 14!  If I was a kid reading that, I would be horrified.  Heck, I’m a little concerned now.  I know girls certainly married that young, but I don’t think it happened as often as we assume.

These types of books will never be my favorite way of introducing history to kids, since so often they focus on historical objectives rather than a good story.  But it is refreshing to see a series for children featuring uniquely Texas stories.  I hope Rogers continues writing them–would love to see something on the oil boom at the turn of the century.  Now, there’s a rip-roaring tale!

The best medicine

Yesterday, I was walking down the back staircase at work, not paying too much attention to things.  After all, I’ve walked down that staircase thousands of times.  But this time, I missed a step and managed to do a wonderful job of spraining my ankle.

I’ve done this once before, about five years ago, in an equally boring way–I stepped off a porch wrong.  It’s the same ankle, and I headed home early to prop it up.  With my desk configuration, it’s really hard to both elevate the ankle and keep working.  Once I got home, I realized this was a perfect minor injury for a reader.  Sometimes when you have a cold, you don’t always feel like reading.  But with a sprained ankle, I just need to sit.  Which is ideal for reading!

I also started thinking about some of my favorite literary heroines and their ankle woes.  First to mind was Anne, though technically she broke her ankle.  Of course, her story is much better than mine–Josie Pye dared her to walk the ridge pole of a roof.  As Anne said,

I must do it.  My honor is at stake.  I shall walk that ridge pole, Diana, or perish in the attempt.

And though Anne got bored while she was laid up, it does appear she had a good time.  Mention is made of the many books and flowers and visitors she had.  And Anne, ever the optimist tells Marilla later:

“Everybody has been so good and kind, Marilla,” sighed Anne happily, on the day when she could first limp across the floor.  “It isn’t very pleasant to be laid up; but there is a bright side to it, Marilla.  You find out how many friends you have.”

Throughout the rest of the series, she refers to her weak ankle, talking in the later books about how it aches before it rains.  Totally understand, and I’ve only sprained mine.

Betsy Ray also had weak ankles.  In Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown she takes a tumble off a sled and sprains her ankle.  The boys bring her home, and she gets set up on a couch with a pillow under her foot.  I love this line “Betsy felt heroic.”  She also mentions the delight of two new books to amuse her while she’s injured.  And of course, out of this incident comes her famous, tragic tale of Flossie.  Years later, Betsy conveniently uses her weak ankle to avoid some awkward boy trouble.  It’s now swollen, and it takes her three times to remember to say “ouch” as her father examines it, but she still pulls the following ploy:

“I’d just as soon stay in bed.  I don’t feel very good.  Not too bad,” she added hastily, remembering Tacy’s party the following night.

Friends parade through her bedroom.  There is some flirting with boys.  Tempting treats are offered, and books are brought.  After all, she’s “sick” but not contagious!  And she milks it for all she’s worth.

So, yes, sprained ankles are most annoying, especially when your office is upstairs and your museum is on 13 acres.  But as far as minor illnesses or injuries go, it could be much worse.  Excuse me while I pick up my book and keep reading.  The ankle requires it!

A 20th Century Pioneer

In these days of an enormous to-read list on goodreads and an online library reserve system, I don’t spend a lot of time browsing the stacks any more.  Though I probably stop by the library about once a week, I truly get in and get out.  On Saturday, the same song was playing on the radio when I got back to the car!  But a few weeks ago, I felt like browsing.  My branch library is less than a year old, so browsing is a true pleasure–all the books are bright and shiny!  It was there that I found Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson.

207798Two things convinced me to check it out: a homestead story from 1918, past what people assume is the “pioneer” era and the fact that the book is based on the author’s family history.

Hattie is a wonderful character–just 16, she’s an orphan that has been shuffled from home to home.  Her aunt has found her a job at a boarding house, so tells Hattie that it’s time to quite school and move out.  And then a letter arrives–an uncle has died and left her his homestead, though she has to “prove up.”  So, she heads to Montana.

Those first few chapters about her life in Montana are amazing.  Here’s a girl that has left a community with running water, cars, and other “creature comforts” and is now living in a shack.  She is grateful that her aunt had refused to upgrade her stove, so she knows how to cook on a wood stove.  She arrives in the dead of winter–on the first morning, her hand freezes to the water pump.    Can you imagine going back in time that way?

In our tendency to generalize about the past, we forget how long the frontier era lasted, and how long it took for modern technology to reach all the corners of the United States.  I applaud this book for reminding us that the West wasn’t settled as soon as the Pa Ingalls decided to settle down.

Throughout the novel, Larson weaves in the bigger story of World War I (Hattie is writing a friend from school who is serving abroad) and anti-German sentiment (her closest friends are German).  It’s a solid, engaging novel and none of the extra bits of history seem tacked on.

Hattie also has a close, personal relationship with God.  When she’s alone, working her land, she talks to God and I’m so glad these conversations became a part of the novel.  I adore this passage:

To keep myself company, I’d taken to conducting chore-time conversations with God.  My self-imposed rule was that each conversation must start on a thankful note.  Sometimes that kept the discussion from really getting going.  I lifted my petticoat out of the wash basket.

“Lord, I do thank you for that warm wind and the promise of spring.” I bent for another clothespin to secure the petticoat.  “And I am very thankful that my wash load is small.”  Here I thought of Perilee, washing for her family of five.  “I count it a true blessing that there are no diapers in my wash.”  I shuddered to think of that.  “Now, you know I’ve been working on keeping a sunny lookout on life, but I must speak to you about Violet, who is more devil than cow.”

How can you not fall in love with a character that has that kind of spunk?

But there is one thing about this book that just breaks my heart.  It’s this passage, from the author’s bio:

Thanks to her eighth-grade teacher, Kirby Larson maintained a healthy lack of interest in history until she heard a snippet of a story about her great-grandmother’s homesteading by herself in eastern Montana.  Efforts to learn more about Hattie Wright’s homesteading felt like detective work; why hadn’t anyone told Kirby research could be this much fun?

Sigh.  I do wonder what this teacher did that turned her off so much.  But at least Larson shared her new-found love of history in a delightful book.  Hopefully, she’s been able to convert a few more folks into history lovers.

Judging a book by its cover. . . Again.

I first ranted about covers of Anne back in 2009.  And then just this week, many kindred spirits joined my rant.  A new cover of Anne went viral–Anne is remarkably modern, and more shockingly, blond!  I mean, if you’re going to switch Anne’s hair color, shouldn’t you at least do something she would want?  Like raven black?  Anyway, it was all over facebook–and how could fans resist sharing their shock and horror with a cover like this?  Seriously, I don’t even have words to explain how inherently wrong this is.

anne

I just went to amazon, and this is now “out of stock” and no cover is pictured.  Methinks they heard the rants from around the world and actually did something about it.  Be sure to check out the comments.  I’ve never seen so many one star reviews on Amazon.  Alas, this publisher is just part of a long line of people that have done horrible things to the covers of the Anne novels.

And here’s a link to my original post, complete with lots more horrifying covers of one of my favorite books.

In other Anne news, I’m now reading Anne to my favorite little girls.  They’re in love!  And this is the cover of the edition we’re reading together:

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)

Isn’t that more like it?

Breaking News?

By The Shores Of Silver LakeToday was quite the day for breaking news in the kidlit history world: Scarlet fever wasn’t the cause of Mary Ingalls’ blindness.  Friends linked to articles on USA Today, the University of Michigan alumni newsletter, and jezebel.com–and I’m sure there were more.  In a nutshell, Mary most likely had  viral meningoencephalitis, a brain infection.  And Laura most likely chose scarlet fever for literary purposes because it was an infinitely more familiar disease to her readers.  Plus, it’s a lot easier to spell.

But here’s what I find most fascinating about this: this story isn’t hidden away on some obscure blog only read by Little House fanatics.  It’s all over the place.  Seriously, national news?  On the day after the Super Bowl?

The stories are all a little different, but most stress that these books are fiction, based on history.  And seem to conclude that part of the reason people are so fascinated with them is the reality within them.  I also love this comment by the Beth Tarini, author of the report, because it seems like we are kindred spirits:

“Since I was in medical school, I had wondered about whether scarlet fever could cause blindness because I always remembered Mary’s blindness from reading the Little House stories and knew that scarlet fever was once a deadly disease,” says Tarini, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“I would ask other doctors, but no one could give me a definitive answer, so I started researching it.”

When I was a kid, I was always curious about the diseases that popped up in books I was reading.  Sometimes, I would look them up, which was much harder to do in the years before the internet.  It’s a fascination that has remained–my best published piece is about tuberculosis in L. M. Montgomery’s work.  This curiosity about medial history seems to be pretty wide-spread–witness how many people were looking up eclampsia after Lady Sybil’s death on Downton Abbey.  Of course, I had already looked that one up after watching Call the Midwife.

For those of us who spend a lot of time hanging out in the past, we periodically get swept away by the “good old days.”    But medical realities always cause us to crash back to earth.  There are many reasons why I’m thrilled to be living in the 21st century, and modern medicine is certainly near the top of the list.  When it comes down to it, I don’t care how exactly Mary lost her sight.  But I do care that a disease took it from her, and that her sister became her “eyes.”  After all, we might not have the Little House books if Laura hadn’t developed those powers of observation and description.  Still, it’s not every day that Laura Ingalls Wilder is in the headlines!  I’ll take what I can get.

Home Front Girl: A Review

Reading someone’s diary, even when given permission, can be scary business.  Can they write?  Is it just going to be a bunch of gossip about people you don’t know?  Do they ramble too much?

There are plenty of published diaries out there, some by famous folk and some by people who happened to live in interesting times.  Me being me, I’ve always been more interested by the ordinary people living in extraordinary times.  How does their version of history differ from the “official” version?  What details do they note that historians looking back might not have noticed?  Often, as people go through their things, they toss the letters and diaries, thinking there’s nothing important in there.  This makes me ache for all that we’ve lost, particularly from people that often aren’t in history books.

Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime AmericaSo, when I got a note offering me a review copy of Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature and Growing up in Wartime America, I was a little excited.  This sounded exactly like my kind of book–and it is!  Joan Wehlen, born in 1922, kept a diary from the time she was 12.  Upon her death in 2010, her daughter found volumes of these notebooks, saw their value, and edited and published them.  Three cheers for Susan Signe Morrison!  As a historian, I’m thrilled that his diary is now widely available.  In doing a quick amazon search, there don’t appear to be many American World War II diaries in print, and even fewer by women.  The home front experience is a vital part of the history of any war, and we need this additional voice.  Especially because it is such a young voice.

As a reader, Joan’s voice is delightful.  There is plenty of gossip about people we don’t know, and boys that she had crushes on, but you quickly realize that Joan was a teenager that paid attention to the world around her.  Long before the United States entered the war, she was tracking battles in Europe.  She has a feeling that the war will get much bigger and wonders if 1940 will be a key turning point.  One of my favorite bits is a passage she wrote a month after the London Blitz.  She titled it “To Those of My Time” and it is a very different perspective on what we have come to call “The Greatest Generation.”

Born at the end of one disastrous war and bred between two wars with always the foreknowledge of this war that is come upon us as we reach adulthood.  Yes, we are a race apart.  Something quite different.  I do not think we would any of us for all our talking fit into another time–another century, even another decade.

From our first years on, we have faced peculiar situations, and they have formed our characters within us.  (p. 141)

As Joan wrote, she knew she was writing for the future.  She went on to become an oral historian, and it’s quite obvious that those historical leanings were present early in her life.  In 1942, she wrote:

Mr. Benet was talking about diaries in history and I believe I have written mine with the intention of having it read someday.  As a help, not only to the understanding of my time–but to the understanding of the individual–not as me–but as character development.  Things we forget when we grow older are written here to remind us.  A help not only in history but in psychology (I can’t even spell it).  If I can do that, I believe I shall have done all that I could wish to.  I rather like the idea of a social archeologist pawing over my relics. (p. 229)

With her daughter’s help, she has certainly done that.

As I read, I kept thinking of a fictional girl who came of age during a previous war:  Rilla Blythe.  I do believe these girls would have much to talk about.  Both books take the smaller, but ultimately more universal, stories of life on the home front and show how war changes everyone, even those that stayed at home.  I think it would be fascinating to teach the two books, hand in hand.

My main quibble is one that the editor couldn’t do much about–the journals end rather abruptly in February 1942.  I wanted to know more!  But do read the final footnote on that entry for a satisfying conclusion to Joan’s story.

This book is being marketed as young adult non-fiction, which I hope doesn’t limit its readership.  Hopefully, readers with an interest in this era won’t be turned off by the young adult classification or miss the book entirely.  It still amazes me how many people are ashamed at reading children’s and young adult fiction!  But the age of the author certainly makes it more appealing for teens.

For more information on this book, along with some great extra material and resources, do check out the website: http://www.homefrontgirldiary.com

Historian Hero

Gerda Lerner, one of my historian heroes, died today.  I first became acquainted with her work during a women’s history class at Hendrix College.  It was a wonderful, wonderful class, where we had thoughtful discussions and read some really great stuff.  During that class, I realized I had always been interested in women’s history, but had never really thought about  it as separate from other kinds of history.  It opened my eyes to how much traditional history leaves out.

In grad school, I encountered her again during a historiography (history of history) class.  That conversation remains one of the most alarming I’ve ever had about history.  One African American man stated that he thought women’s history segmented history too much.  I remember him saying something like “What’s next?  Books about women and jello?  Women with fat lips and women with thin lips?”  Two females agreed with each other that the only reason why a woman’s biography would need to be written would be to describe how she had supported her famous husband.  A few of us ended up doing this tag-team, arguing thing as we desperately tried to convince these classmates that women’s history had value.  It was awful.

Around this same time, a friend and I learned about a monthly gathering for female historians (grad students and professors) at area universities.   We were at NC State, and the group also included folks from Duke and UNC.  Julie and I made the trek to a professor’s house in Chapel Hill one evening.  We both kinda wondered if we would meet anyone “famous”–after all, there are a lot of well-known historians at both Duke and UNC.  We mingled, desperately clutching a glass of wine, before the “official” part of the evening.  Julie and I didn’t really talk to anyone, because we didn’t know a soul.  The topic that night was the different stages of grad school life, so at one point, we all sat down in a circle to start the conversation.  The leader asked us to introduce ourselves, tell where we went to undergrad, what we were studying now, and the biggest difference between the two.  Julie and I were some of the first to speak.  I said something lame about campus size.  And then, an older woman spoke “I’m Gerda Lerner, and I went to the New School. . .”  Julie and I looked at each other out of the corner of our eyes and tried to look cool.  What followed was one of the most amazing discussions I’ve ever been a part of.  Gerda would get on soapboxes, talking about the inherent patriarchy of the university system and her experiences as the only one doing her kind of work.  I tried to soak up every single word, but it’s been over 10 years now, and the memories are fuzzy.

After the discussion was over, Julie and I got up and started making our way to leave.  Gerda stopped us, reintroduced herself and asked her what we were studying.  I said “Oh, just public history at NC State.”  And she said “Oh, good!  You’ll actually be able to find a job!” and patted me on the shoulder.  Julie and I looked at each other in complete shock.  Once we finally left the house, I’m not too ashamed to admit there may have been some extremely nerdy screaming on both our parts.  Not only had we met one of the greatest living historians, it had been in a very casual, completely unexpected way.

I learned a long time ago that not everyone gets this story, because a lot of people have no idea who Gerda Lerner is and what she did.  There are obituaries and biographies all over the place, but in case you don’t feel like clicking, I’ll just quote this bit from the New York Times obituary:

In the mid-1960s, armed with a doctorate in history from Columbia University and a dissertation on two abolitionist sisters from South Carolina, Ms. Lerner entered an academic world in which women’s history scarcely existed. The number of historians interested in the subject, she told The New York Times in 1973, “could have fit into a telephone booth.”

“In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist,” Ms. Lerner told The Chicago Tribune in 1993. “I asked myself how this checked against my own life experience. ‘This is garbage; this is not the world in which I have lived,’ I said.”

That picture changed rapidly, in large part because of her efforts while teaching at Sarah Lawrence College in the early 1970s. In creating a graduate program there, Ms. Lerner set about trying to establish women’s history as an academic discipline and to raising the status of women in the historical profession. She also began gathering and publishing the primary source material — diaries, letters, speeches and so on — that would allow historians to reconstruct the lives of women.

“She made it happen,” said Alice Kessler-Harris, a history professor at Columbia. “She established women’s history as not just a valid but a central area of scholarship. If you look at any library today, you will see hundreds of books on the subject.”

Only once, in that hideous grad school class, have I ever had to fight to prove the value of my work.  And really, up until that class, it was something I hadn’t realized needed defending.  I’ve always been curious about women’s everyday lives in the past, as well as their more famous sisters.  I’m sure part of this is simply because I’m a girl.  But I think a bigger part is because of what I grew up reading.

As you probably already know, my favorite books are about strong female characters, and those characters were almost exclusively created by female authors.  These strong women, these fictional characters soaked into my bones and became a part of who I am.   So, when I began my study of history, I came into it with some very different ideas about what was important and what I wanted to study than some other folks.  After growing up with the characters of L. M. Montgomery, I was surprised to learn how rare higher education for women was in the late 19th century.  On the other hand, after growing up with Laura, Mary and Ma, I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn how crucial women were in the settlement of the frontier.  The March sisters displayed a range of ways women could make their own lives–from motherhood to working to art to philanthropy.   These thoughts all played into my head, as I dived into women’s history and social history and kept coming up with random ways in which these beloved children’s books connected with the history texts I was reading.

So tonight, I’m thinking about Gerda Lerner and the ways her work has shaped my life and passions.  It’s hard, sometimes, to remember how recently the idea that women’s history looks a bit different from traditional history emerged.  I like to think that eventually, someone else would have pointed out the obvious, but I’m so glad it was her–and that we didn’t have to wait any longer.

Favorites of 2012

Now that the hustle and bustle of Christmas is past (and I look forward to lots of lazy yet productive days at home), I’ve started doing my annual sorting and cleaning throughout the house.  And somehow, that always includes looking back at my year in books.  Below are a few favorite kidlit history books of 2012.  For my complete list of books, feel free to find me on goodreads.

Past Perfect by Leila Sales.  (read in February 2012)  Technically, it’s not kidlit history.  But it’s set at a living history museum, and it is absolutely hysterical.  I wrote about it in more depth here.

Dandelion Cottage by Carroll Watson Rankin.  (read in March 2012).  I admit it–I have  weakness for books about kids fixing up houses.  From Laurie and the Yellow Curtains to Jane of Lantern Hill to Gone-Away Lake to Andrew Henry’s MeadowDandelion Cottage is another great example of youngsters given a space to call their own.  This one made the blog as well.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  (read in August 2012).  Probably my favorite book of 2012.  Tight plot, believable characters, twists that will leave you gasping for air.  And it’s all about a somewhat forgotten area of history–women serving as pilots and spies during WWII.  And if all this makes you want to learn more, be sure to check out Flygirl by Sherri Smith (which I read in 2011).

Bicycle Madness by Jane Kurtz.  (read in September 2012).  A quite little book of historical fiction that will capture your heart.  More on it here.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. (read in October 2012).  I first read Little Women when I was probably 8 or 9.  I only made it through the first half–things got too mushy for my tastes when Meg married.  And though I’ve returned to it several times over the years, have visited Orchard House twice, read all sorts of things about the Alcott family, and explored several of Louisa’s lesser known works, it’s been a very long time since I’ve read Little Women.  It’s a classic for a reason, and if you haven’t read it in a while, I highly encourage you to.  One of the very few kidlit history books about the Civil War, in many ways, the book could be set in any time and any place–it’s so much about the struggle to grow up and become a woman.  More on it here.

The River Between Us by Richard Peck.  (read in November 2012) Yet again, Peck proves himself to be a master of historical fiction.  A Civil War tale, but as much about the unique racial situation in New Orleans.  And it’s got a stellar love story as well.  One of these days, I just need to sit down and read all of Peck’s books, because I don’t think he’s ever disappointed me.

What were some of your favorites in 2012?

I’ve felt like I neglected my blog this year, and yet, I see that I’ve written about almost all of my favorite kidlit history books of 2012.  That being said, I’ve already decided that my resolution for 2013 will be to write more.  That writing won’t just be here, but I definitely need to get back in that writing habit.

Here’s to more great reads in 2013!

Riding into history

I began to feel that myself plus the bicycle equaled myself plus the world, upon whose spinning wheel we must all learn to ride, or fall into oblivion and despair.  –Frances Willard

Election Day is almost upon us.  I think the only thing that everyone can agree on is that it’s all been very interesting.  I thought about voting early, but I must admit that I really love voting on Election Day.  Whenever I enter the voting booth, I say a little prayer of thanks to the generations of women that made it possible for me to exercise that privilege.  1920 really wasn’t that long ago–when my grandmother was born, women were still 13 years away from gaining suffrage.  And yet, people don’t seem to know much about suffragists, even though their work directly affects so many of us.

Bicycle MadnessI’m not sure how Bicycle Madness by Jane Kurtz ended up on my to-read list.  But I moved it to the top when we started planning a bicycle event at the Village.  And even though it didn’t affect plans at work, I’m so glad that I finally read it.  All the pieces fit together for a practically perfect work of historical fiction.

Lillie has just moved to a new house.  She no longer lives next door to her best friend, but now she lives next door to Frances Willard.  Frances Willard is one of those remarkable 19th century women that not a lot of people know about.  Suffragist, teacher, temperance advocate, labor rights advocate, and more.  Oh, and bicyclist.  Bicycles gave women a measure of freedom that they hadn’t had before–they could get places more quickly without having to hitch a wagon.

Lillie meets Frances as she’s trying to learn how to ride.  But why would Frances want to learn how to ride?  She said:

For three reasons.  First, my love of adventure has been pushed underground too long and now it is bubbling up.  Second, a bicycle is a powerful tool that will be under my foot. . . Last, but not least, I shall do it because a good many people think I cannot at my age.

How can you not fall in love with Frances Willard?  Gladys (the bicycle!) is quite the challenge, but as Frances learns about the bicycle, Lillie learns more about other points of view.  Lillie is absolutely charming, and the story feels completely natural.  So often when you throw in a real historical figure into fiction, it doesn’t work.  This does.  There are other deeper threads woven into the story too–suffrage, of course.  But also labor rights.  And how to move on after the death of a parent.  It’s a beautiful, well-crafted story.

One of my favorite parts of Kurtz’s writing is the way she uses late 19th century language and slang.  Lillie’s voice feels historical, but not in a stuffy way.  All the details feel natural–Kurtz’s priority seems to be a good story, though she’s certainly opening up lots of moments for teaching along the way.  How much did I love this book?  Enough that I downloaded the inspiration of this book, Frances Willard’s account of learning to ride a bike, A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle.  Haven’t read it yet, but I’ll get to it one of these days.

So, as we deal with all this election madness, might I recommend taking a few moments to learn a bit more about one of the suffragists that made it possible for everyone to be able to vote?  Might I suggest Frances Willard?

The joy of rereading

I don’t remember when I first read Little Women.  I do know how I discovered it.  We had a small collection of classics that had been my aunts’–they were girls in the 1930s and 1940s, so they were really beautiful editions.  Little Women was in that collection (I think with illustrations by Jessie Wilcox Smith, but that copy is at mom’s house), along with Heidi and Bambi and all sorts of other wonderful books.  I also remember loving the book–until Meg got married and the girls grew up and it got kind of mushy.  Eventually, I grew up a bit too, revisited it, and fell in love with the whole wonderful book.

But it has been many, many years since I’ve read Little Women.  Not that I’ve ignored Alcott in the last decade or so.  I’ve been to Orchard House twice–the only literary landmark I’ve visited twice.  I’ve read some of her other works, including Hospital Sketches.  I devoured the dual biography of Louisa and her father, Eden’s Outcasts.  But I haven’t actually read Little Women in at least 10 years.

Currently, I’m preparing a talk on the Civil War in children’s literature, so I simply had to reread it.  And I’m enjoying it so much more than I thought I would, and I can’t figure out why it’s been so long since I’ve reread it.

For the last several years (really, since the advent of goodreads and realizing exactly how many books are on my to-read list), I haven’t spent much time re-reading.  There are so many wonderful, unread books that I haven’t wanted to spend my limited reading time on old friends.  And yet, as I revisit the March family, I’m seeing so many things I’ve never seen before.  Jo is so imperfect and yet so real.  Amy isn’t nearly as annoying as I had previously thought.  Every girl struggles with her faith journey (I love the scene with Amy’s little corner for reflection and prayer).  Before, I had always been of the camp that believed Jo and Laurie should have ended up together.  Now, I agree with Marmee that it would have been a disastrous marriage.  Plus, I’m head over heels with Professor Bhaer!  Even though I know exactly what’s going to happen (we shall not speak of Beth’s death just yet), I’m eager to get back to the story and keep reading.

So friends, what old favorite have you neglected in recent years?  Is it time to renew your acquaintance?