A space to call your own

I’ve lived in my house for just over two years now, but in a way it just became mine.  You see, my roommate moved out a couple of weeks ago.  So, now, only my stuff is in the house.  It’s not that I had anything against her stuff, but it is awfully nice to have my house all to myself.  And I’ll just keep ignoring the very large, empty spots in certain rooms.

Henry and the ClubhouseRight after she moved out, I happened to pick up Henry and the Clubhouse by Beverly Cleary.  It seems like Ramona gets all the love, but I really adore Henry.  He tries so hard and sometimes things (or Ramona!) just get in his way.  In this book, he decides to build a doghouse.  But when a neighbor tears down a garage, Henry realizes there’s enough wood to make a fine clubhouse (Recycle and reuse!!).  His friends Robert and Murph help with hauling wood–and Murph even insists on drawing up a plan.  It turns into a most impressive clubhouse, with a sign that says “No Girls Allowed” and a large taxidermy owl.  Beezus tries to help–offering to make curtains or find a door mat.  But the boys insist that such niceties aren’t needed.  They even come up with a “secret” password for the boys.

Folks, this is one of the most impressive clubhouses ever built by fictional boys.  There are shingles.  Windows.  Siding  Check out this description of it’s completion:

At last the clubhouse was finished.  The siding was snug and tight.  The hinges worked perfectly, the asphalt shingles were nailed down so securetly the roof could not possibly leak.  Yes, the boys agreed, it was a good solid house.  It was just about as solid as a real house.  They thumped the walls appreciatively and stamped their feet on the floor.  And the best part of it was, it was big enough for three boys to sleep in if they didn’t move around much, and who could move around in a sleeping bag?

I may be a grown-up, with a prefectly fine “real house” of my own, but part of me still wants a little club house like that.  What is about club houses?  Is it just the charm of a tiny space?  We have a playhouse at the museum, and our curator has often said it’s her favorite building.  And of course, the kids all love it–something just for them–but why are we adults still in love with the idea of a play house?

Two of my favorite books from chidhood also feature clubhouses or playhouses or whatever you want to call them.  Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn is about a boy who’s family doesn’t like his tendency to build things.  So he heads out to a meadow and builds his own tiny house.  Soon enough, other kids who have hobbies that don’t have full parental approval also head out to the meadow–and Andrew Henry builds houses for them too.  Each is different–and each house is absolutely charming.  One girl gets a house that looks like a castle: “Jane had her dress-up clotes with her.  She hoped her mother wouldn’t miss them too much.  She explained that they made her feel like Lady Jane instead of just plain Jane.”  Of course, eventually, the families miss the kids and the kids head back home.  The marvelous houses aren’t mentioned again (Andrew Henry is given a spot in the basement to build), but I like to think the kids kept escaping to their little kid colony to be themselves.



22433723Another favorite was Laurie and the Yellow Curtains by Sara Asherson.  I think it is no coincidence that there are yellow curtain in my laundry room!  Laurie helps Mr. Bill the Fix-It Man and with each project (a dog house, a bird house, a chicken coop) she asks him to paint the door yellow and hang yellow curtains in the window.  He keeps insisting that birds and dogs and chickens don’t need pretty houses.  Then, Laurie and her mother go on a trip.  And when she comes back, well, I suppose you can guess what has happened in her absence!  “For there in the apple tree was a house.  A tree house with a little ladder.  A tree house with a yellow door and yellow curtains! . . . “For everyone knows that a little girl needs a pretty house to play in.”

All of the kids in these stories had plenty of unstructured time to build a house (or follow around a handy-man!) and just play.  I never want to be one of those people that bemoans what kids today are missing, but I do wonder how many kids today have that intense desire to have a tiny little space all their own.  A space for them to let their imagination run wild.  Or as Jane put it, a place where she “feels like Lady Jane instead of plain Jane.”  Are little houses like these now a part of history?  Somehow, the playground sets that feature little houses on stilts just aren’t the same.

Head and Heart

College was never really a question for me.  I was one of the “smart” kids, and my parents had gone to college.  Somehow, it wasn’t until I got to college and was knee deep in a women’s history class that I realized that this whole higher education for women was all relatively recent.

Again, I can probably blame some of the books I read as a kid.  Higher education was never really a question for Anne Shirley–after all, with the stigma of being an orphan, she had to have a way to make her way in the world just in case a husband wasn’t in her future.  Though Laura Ingalls doesn’t head to college, her sister Mary does go away to school.  And as a teacher, Laura certainly kept learning.  And so many of the books I love end before the main characters are college-aged, so it just wasn’t an issue.

Carney's House Party/Winona's Pony Cart: Deep Valley Books (P.S.)I didn’t discover Carney Sibley until I was an adult, but I instantly loved the depiction of college life in Carney’s House Party.  Like the other “teenage and older,” Maud Hart Lovelace books, this one has also been reissued in a lovely package.  It includes an introduction by Melissa Wiley, best known for her prequels to the Little House books.  There are other reasons to love Carney–infinitely practical, she falls head over heels for a man that is wrong on paper but is totally right.  More than anything, this book is a romance.  But I’m not here to talk about romance.

Carney is an unusual girl for her time.  Unlike her classmates from Deep Valley High, she goes away for college–all the way to New England and Vassar College.  Among her classmates at Vassar, she’s unique in being “midwestern.”  Not a lot of families were willing to invest that kind of money in their daughter’s education.  Let’s give Carney a bit of context.

Oberlin College was basically the first college in the country to admit women–admitting 4 in 1837.  Vassar itself was founded in 1861, the second of the Seven Sisters (first was Mount Holyoke also in 1837 and last was Barnard in 1889).  But just because these colleges existed didn’t mean that the general public accepted higher education for women. . .

By the 1880s, more and more women were continuing with their education–and more and more women were struggling to figure out what to do with that knowledge.  Jane Addams has a wonderful passage in her memoir, Twenty Years at Hull House, that describes her frustration at having nothing to do–which ultimately led her to found Hull House and offer careers in social work to other educated women.

Around the turn of the century, active efforts began to dissuade women from pursuing higher education, especially alongside men..  The following is taken from the National Women’s History Museum online exhibit, “The History of Women and Education,” which I highly recommend if you want to find out more about this topic.  In the 19th century, many folks worried about the following:

  1. Women would suffer nervous breakdowns if they were to compete in a man’s world.
  2. They would be corrupted and lose their purity.
  3. Their reproductive systems may be harmed.
  4. A learned woman might be an unfit mother and wife.
  5. Education would masculinize women. 
  6. If men and women associated together in college they may begin to find each other less attractive.

Dr. Edward Clarke stated, “A woman’s body could only handle a limited number of developmental tasks at one time – that girls who spent to much energy developing their minds during puberty would end up with undeveloped or diseased reproductive systems”

So where does Carney fit in all of this?  Right smack dab in the middle!  In the midst of the house party, with all of its fun, Betsy reads an article from the Ladies Home Journal, one of the leading women’s magazines of the era.

“Here’s just what we want, an article on women’s colleges.”

It was written by a parent, and he didn’t like women’s colleges any too well.  “Our daughter has come back to us mentally broadened, but somehow we feel a loss in emotional qualities.  The head of the girl has been trained without the heart.”

“What nonsense!” Carney interrupted.  “You don’t go to college to get your heart trained.”

As she falls in love with Sam, it becomes clear that he wants her to continue school, because it will make her be a better wife and mother–another common belief at the time.  And maybe it does.  But at the same time, this modern feminist is a wee bit irked that Sam wants her to graduate, but there’s not much mention of Carney’s desires.

Right now, I’m reading Sister of the Bride by Beverly Cleary.  Set in the early 1960s, there are moments where I feel like I’m back in the 1910s with Carney.  Greg wants Rosemary to finish school.  Greg wants Rosemary to get good grades.  But what does Rosemary want?

For many of us, these kinds of thoughts and reactions and reasoning seems quaint and old-fashioned.  Of course women can learn alongside men!  Of course women should go to collge (in fact, for the first time, there are more women graduating from college than men).  And yet, it’s still awfully complicated.  How do you balance career and family?  This isn’t something I’ve personally had to struggle with yet, but I do wonder how I’ll balance career and kids when the time comes.

So, the conversation they had on  Carney’s porch really wasn’t that long ago.  And in some ways, we’re still having that conversation.  Here’s to Maud Hart Lovelace of reminding us where we fit in the scheme of things.

Movies vs. books, round 1

It’s probably more than a coincidence that I’m revisiting Klickitat Street just before the latest movie version of Ramona comes out.  Back in the day, I really liked the tv version with Sarah Polley (also know for being in Avonlea, who’s source material is another favorite author).  And the previews for the movie look pretty decent.  But I know there are people that are _seriously_ upset whenever a movie messes with a beloved classic.

Another friend shared this review from Horn Book which makes me fairly optimistic.

So my question for you:  are you going to see it?  Are you going to wait until its on DVD so you can drink heavily and/or curse loudly while watching it?  Or are you going to avoid like its the Worst Thing That Ever Happened in Hollywood?

Do you have favorite movie versions of books?  Most horrifying?

From Contemporary to Historical

Henry Huggins (1950/1965) by jl.incrowd.Last week, I decided to revisit Klickitat Street for the first time in years.  Quite early in Henry and Ribsy’s adventures, I ran across this passage in which Henry calls his mom to ask if he can bring home a dog.

The dog trotted after the boy to the telephone booth in the corner of the drugstore.  Henry shoved him into the booth and shut the door.  He had never used a pay telephone before.  He had to put the telephone book on the floor and stand on tiptoe on it to reach the mouthpiece.  He gave the operator his number and dropped his nickel into the coin box.  (Henry Huggins, p. 3)

Now, I’ve used a pay phone before, but in this age of cell phones, how many kids are familiar with phone booths?  Or have ever heard of talking to an operator?  Or a phone book rather than google? 

Later, there’s a scene where Henry attempts to use a typewriter to fake a note from his mom to his teacher–all to get him out of the school play.  Now, kids are certainly familiar with typing, but are they going to understand the difficulties Henry had in typing a short note?

Somehow it didn’t look the way he thought it would.  The capitals were not in the right place.  He knew much wasn’t spelled with a j or yours with a z.  His fingers had just put themselves on the wrong keys.  Henry tore his letter into little pieces and threw them into the fireplace.  He ran another piece of paper into the typewriter and started again. . . Henry studied it.  Those capitals again.  He pushed the thing too soon or not soon enough.  And whoever heard of a word like ezcude?  Or doat?  His fingers just didn’t hit the right keys.  (Henry Huggins, p. 52-53)

Henry Huggins was Beverly Cleary’s first book, published in 1950.  She wrote it for the little boys in the library that wanted a book featuring “a boy like me.”  Sixty years later, Henry is still in print and still much loved.  Unlike most of the authors I talk about here, Beverly Cleary is still going strong (well, as strong as anyone can be at 94!).  I just love her author’s website, which includes an interactive map of Klickitat Street.

Henry was a contemporary novel back in 1950–none of the technology or little details of daily life were unusual to the first readers.  But now?  Has it become historical?

In my mind, there are two types of kidlit history–those books that are based on the author’s past and those books that have become historical by surviving.  What really separates the two is that the writer looking back has a general idea about things that might confuse their readers.  Hence, the wealth of details and explanations in the Little House books or even Betsy-Tacy.  But Cleary is assuming that her readers know all about typewriters–they know that correcting mistakes was virtually impossible.  They had a really good idea why Henry struggled so with that note–while kids today, so comfortable with the ease of computer editing, won’t.

I love these kinds of books, because the bits of history are so natural–the author isn’t consciously saying “kids in the future will need to know about phone booths, so I’ll be sure to include that.”

All the bits of technology aside, I fell in love with Henry all over again on this reread.  It has been a very, very long time since I’ve read any Cleary.  The last thing by her that I’ve read was her two memoirs, A Girl From Yamhill and My Own Two Feet, and that was more than a few years ago.  But on my midwestern road trip, I kept running into Cleary books for next to nothing–it was like the universe was telling me that it was time for me to revisit Klickitat Street.  So I see lots of Cleary in my immediate future.