When I was a teen, my favorite author had been dead for 50 years.  This is just one of the many challenges of being obsessed with characters like Anne and Laura.  Sure, I was able to ride the wave of all of L. M. Montgomery’s books being reissued in the wake of the mini-series, but fan mail definitely wasn’t an option.  And there wasn’t a chance of being in the same room with my favorite author.

So, I’m a little jealous of today’s young readers, who can follow their favorite authors on Twitter and Instagram.  Or be in the same room with them and get photos and autographs and all of those amazing things.

Yesterday was the very first North Texas Teen Book Festival.  I’ve been a member of the DFW Forever Young Adult Book Club (p.s find a chapter near you.  You won’t regret it!) for several years, and our little club was heavily represented–a member was running the whole thing, other members were on the steering committee, panelists or moderators.  When the author list was announced in December, I was completely blown away.  For the last few months,I’ve been binge reading YA, trying to become acquainted with as many of the visiting authors as possible.

Over the years, I’ve been to my share of author readings.  I’ve attended the Texas Book Festival a few times.  But let me tell you–none of those experiences compare to the energy of being in a room with hundreds of obsessive teen fans.  Over and over, I saw teens basically ready to bust out of their skin in excitement.  Their book bags were full of books.  They were moaning about not having enough money to get everything they wanted.  They were very, very happy.  Books aren’t dead!

Featuring Sara Zarr, John Corey Whaley, friend Julie Murphy, and Karen Harrington

Featuring Sara Zarr, John Corey Whaley, friend Julie Murphy, and Karen Harrington

My friend Mandy moderated the “Book Boyfriends 101” session featuring authors A. G. Howard, Megan McCafferty, Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Ally Carter.  I’ve read 4 of the 5, and must say I am completely smitten with Jenny Han and Stephanie Perkins, so this session was a high priority for me.  Luckily, I happened to run into Mandy right before her session.  As we headed to her room, the hallway got more and more crowded and we realized–they were all trying to get into that session.  Mandy pushed her way through, and I was right behind her.  She got into the room by saying “I’m the moderator,” and I got into the room by saying “I’m with the moderator.”  Yes, I totally cut off hundreds of rabid fangirls.  I do feel guilty, but I was also the official session photographer.  I had a job!  I grabbed a seat on the first row.  Five minutes later, the volunteers asked any adults “who didn’t have to be here” to please leave.  I shrunk down in my seat and tried to look as young as possible.

Featuring Ally Carter, Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, Megan McCafferty and friend/moderator Mandy Aguilar.  Not picture: A. G. Howard

Featuring Ally Carter, Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, Megan McCafferty and friend/moderator Mandy Aguilar. Not picture: A. G. Howard

The girls next to me were super, super excited.  One was literally on the edge of her seat, back ramrod straight, for the entire hour.  She squealed.  She gasped.  Other girls on the front row were wearing Gallagher Girls shirts, a nod to Ally Carter’s series.  There was literal screaming when each panelist was introduced.  It was clear that the audience was full of teen girls who had read and reread and obsessed over these authors’ books.  It was quite obvious that this experience was going to be a highlight of their lives.

And the panel.  Oh, the panel.  So very funny and real and honest.  Authors confessing the silly things they’ve done for love.  How to create the perfect book boyfriend, with the reminder that sometimes a good book boyfriend would make a terrible real boyfriend.  As I said on twitter, it was like a cross between a rock concert, comedy show and therapy session.

Just one room of the signing lines.  I chose to buy pre-sigend books and left the fun of standing in line to the teens.

Just one room of the signing lines. I chose to buy pre-sigend books and left the fun of standing in line to the teens.

At a certain point yesterday, 35 year old Melissa became very, very jealous of thousands of book loving teens crammed into the Irving Convention Center.  Being a teenager can be such an awkward, terrible thing–and being bookish doesn’t always help much.  But they had this moment to connect with fellow fans and the authors they love.  This is one of those events that you just know will have extraordinary ripple effects in these teens’ lives.  There was a great article about the event, and I think they totally understood how magical this was.  They followed one girl in particular and wrapped it up with this little story:

She opened her bag and counted her haul, 14 books total.

“Eight, nine, 10,” she said, piling the books in her lap. By the time she was done, a tower of novels swayed atop her knees.

Fire & Flood. Don’t Even Think About It. Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

And her latest acquisition, Side Effects May Vary.

“I met Julie,” Carol told the boy matter-of-factly. “Do you know how exciting that is?”

I’m so very proud of my friends that put this whole thing together–and so very glad that I could come along on the ride.

Now, I have to get back to my very long reading list, currently full of authors that are alive and well!

Work hard for a living

I never thought I’d get excited about economic history.  Or economics, in general.  But when everything crashed in 2008, I got interested.  I remember being completely transfixed while listening to This American Life’s podcast about the real estate meltdown (A Giant Pool of Money).  And dumbfounded that I was so fascinated.  I started reading the business section of the newspaper.  And I started subscribing to the Planet Money podcast.

A few weeks ago, they posted the following graphic on their blog–all about “children in gainful occupations” according to the 1920 census.  The timing for this piece was wonderful–at work, we’re currently working on an event where we’ll talk about work at the turn-of-the-century.  We’ve made some exhibit changes over the past few years that make business and economic history much easier to teach.  We will talk about jobs at the General Store, Bank or Hotel, but since this is a family-centered event, I want to make sure that we also talk about children working.  We probably won’t delve too deeply into child labor, but I certainly want to talk about the kids of the past that had to earn money for their family’s (or their own) survival.

So, of course, I turned instantly to kidlit history.  Here are a few examples that I’ll be sharing as part of the pre-visit packet of kids earning money–sometimes for their own purposes and sometimes to help the family.  In roughly chronological order:

Meg and Jo in Little Women.  It’s apparent from the very beginning of the book that these girls need to help their family.  Who can forget those immortal lines:

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

In Chapter 4, their work is better described.  Meg, at 16, was a nursery governess for four children.  Jo was a companion for Aunt March, as a companion and helper.

Laura in Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years.  First, Laura is a seamstress, earning money to send Mary to the blind school.  Later, she becomes a teacher (and has some horrifying experiences!)

Sara in A Little Princess.  When Sara’s father dies, bankrupt, her boarding school could have turned her out on the street.  Instead, they put her to work.  Miss Minchin tells her:

“You are like Becky–you must work for your living.”

To her surprise, a faint gleam of light came into the child’s eyes–a shade of relief.

“Can I work?” she said.  “If I can work it will not matter so much.  What can I do?”

As a child, I don’t think I got how terrifying this situation might have been.  Of course, the magical dinner that appears later might have helped with that illusion.

Perry Miller in Emily of New Moon and Peter Craig in The Story Girl.  There are tons of hired girls in L. M. Montgomery’s fiction–and of course, we know that before Anne found Matthew and Marilla she was working in a household, assisting with the children.  I think it’s really important to remember that not all of the hired boys and girls in LMM’s fiction are as alone as Sara Crewe appeared to be.  Perry had an aunt whom we occasionally see.  But these were still kids that needed to grow up quickly–Perry was only 12 or 13 when he went to work.

Interestingly enough, the divide between the kids who had to work and the kids who just want some extra money lines up  chronologically.  The books mentioned above are set from the 1860s to the 1890s.  The books below are the late 1890s to the 1900s–a sign of how the world was continuing to change?  That may be a bit of a reach, but it is interesting.

Lucinda in Roller Skates.  She wants to throw a proper Christmas party for Trinket, but needs the money to do it.  She finds all sorts of odd jobs with her neighbors–walking a dog to tutoring English.  There’s this lovely exchange, just after Lucinda is offered the dog-walking job:

“How perfectly glorious!  It doesn’t seem right to earn money so pleasantly.  Mama never paid me to do anything except what I positively hated to do.”

“That’s too bad.  I think money ought to be always earned pleasantly.  Think of how much gayer the world would be if everybody went to work in the morning knowing he was going to do something he enjoyed doing all day!”


Tom in the Great Brain books.  Oh, Tom.  A pint-sized con man.  He earns money in all sorts of crazy ways–tricking kids and adults.  But, that wonderful chapter about charging kids to see a flush toilet?  Yep, we’re totally borrowing that idea for the event at the Village.  Even cooler?  There’s a story of one of the Sullivan kids doing the exact same thing with “our” toilet.

My goal for all this list was to stick with the museum’s time period of 1840-1910–so no Henry Reed or the Melendys or others.  But these are all such good examples of kids entering into the workforce–sometimes by choice and sometimes by necessity.  So often, when we think about the past, we’re using rose-colored glasses.  But so many kids had to work to survive.  It’s a startling thought for many young people, but using these stories is a great way to get started.

And then we can start talking about child labor laws. . .

So, what have I forgotten on my list?  Some friends mentioned Understood Betsy and Five Little Peppers.  I’ve never read the other Betsy, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read about the Peppers.  I was hoping to get a reread in, but I think I’m out of time.  Other thoughts?

Library Break

Last week, I had carpet replaced in about half of my house.  The good news: I didn’t have to move all of my books.  But I did have to move quite a few books.  I never really think about how many books I have until I move them somewhere, and then it suddenly becomes painfully obvious.

One of the shelves that got moved was my “to read” shelf–all the books that I’ve bought and never read.  It didn’t seem like that many books until they were stacked vertically.  I know it could be worse–heck, I have friends who have much bigger piles than I do.  But in a way, it stresses me out. 

And then I read this article, a review on NPR of Elizabeth’s German Garden.  I bought this book years ago (maybe 10?) and have never cracked the cover.  Of course, I must also confess that I only bought it because this book was one of L. M. Montgomery’s very favorite books and is where she borrowed that immortal phrase “kindred spirits.”  I bought it as a curiousity, never thinking that it might actually be a book I enjoy.  And based on this review, I think I might really like it.  I started feeling really guilty about all the books in my house that were interesting enough to buy, but haven’t yet been read.

Over the last year or so, the vast majority of books I’ve read have come from the library.  Which is a great and wonderful thing, and it’s not like I’m going to abandon the library.  But I have decided this: as soon as I finish the two books that I currently have checked out, I’m going to only read books that presently reside in my house for one month.  It’s a break from the library, as magical as it is. 

And though I’m not one of those bloggers that inspires challenges and such, I do invite you to join me in a library break and tackle your own to-read stack.  There’s no telling what we might discover on on our own shelves.

So, what should I read first?


A season of reading

Growing up, the library’s summer reading program was always a highlight of the summer.  Finally, treats for always having my nose in a book!  Alas, I never won any of the big prizes.  Our program was all about the number of books read, not the number of pages.  And I kept choosing really big books.

As a grownup, I still have this feeling that I should be reading more in the summer.  After all, it’s been super hot, and reading is something you should do in the comfort of air conditioning.  Plus, summer tv just isn’t as good.  But every year, my visions of reading the summer away in June turn out to be not so true in August.  The pesky real world always gets in the way.  This year has been even more annoying–I added a reading goal to my goodreads profile.  According to their lovely bar graph, at my current rate, I’m 8 books behind.  At least this is better than earlier in the week when I was 9 books behind.

So what have I been reading this summer?  Lots and lots of varied things.  Not a huge amount of kidlit history (hence, the dearth of posts lately), but here are a few recent reads, somewhat related to kidlit history.

Papa Married a Mormon by John D. Fitzgerald.  Not kidlit at all, but Fitzgerald is best known for his Great Brain books–and this is really the first version of those stories, told to an adult audience.  I had really mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, it is a great slice of life/memoir of the Western frontier.  On the other hand, I kept waiting for it to have the sparkle and humor of the Great Brain books, and it never quite made it.  Perhaps if I read this first, I would have liked it more.  However, I do find it fascinating that he wrote two versions of his family’s story for two different audiences.  I can’t think of any other authors that have done similiar things.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery.  My memories of Jane were vague, but I certainly remembered her delight in keeping house.  And since I was enjoying rearranging after the roomie moved out, a bit of domesticity felt right.  This is one of Montgomery’s last novels (published in 1937), and it felt incredibly odd to read about cars.  There aren’t supposed to be cars on PEI!  But think of the changes in the 30 years since Montgomery had published Anne. . .

 A mention of an early edition of Alice in Wonderland in Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein (a fabulous mystery set in the world of rare books and the New York Public Library) caused me to bump up Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin on the To-Read list.  I’m about halfway through it now.  I’ve never really thought much about the real life counterparts to classics.  Granted, the story of Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll is a bit more questionable than the origins of some other children’s classics.  But I do wonder how Alcott’s surviving sisters felt about the runaway success of Little Women.  Did Laura’s sisters really want to relive their early strugges though Little House?  Something to ponder.

Is summer a season of reading for you too?  Where have your bookmarks been lately?

In celebration of Rilla

There are some stories that never quite let you go.  My love for Rilla of Ingleside has been mentioned here more than once.  That love led me to my senior thesis and, more recently, to my most recent publication on the Dallas homefront during WWI.  So is it any wonder that I was thrilled that Benjamin Lefebvre and Andrea McKenzie were coming out with a new edition of one of my favorite books?  And that I was also just a wee bit jealous?

9687998There are many, many things that thrill me about this book.  Finally, all your major questions sparked by the history in this book are answered within it!  The original text is restored, after having been “silently” cut decades ago.  And it’s just a pretty book.

But my biggest thrill is that I finally have proof that people besides me value this book and realize how important it is–to both literature and history.  When I was doing my research for the article on Dallas clubwomen during WWI, I knew I wanted to focus not on the extraordinary–the women who worked outside the home, went to France as nurses, or did any number of remarkable things.  No, I wanted to focus on what most women would have done–fit war work into existing lives.  Those lives were stretched, but not completely undone.  And as I wrote that paper, I desperately wanted to quote Rilla, though I just couldn’t quite justify it.

If I had to pick just one book to explain my whole thesis about kidlit history–that there is some history that is be found in children’s literature and can’t be found anywhere else, this book would be the one I would pick.  Primary sources on the emotions and daily lives of the women that watched and waited are hard to find.  We tend to document the extraordinary.  Though these women were living in extraordinary times, I don’t think they realized how much their lives were changing.

Montgomery knew she was telling the story of the masses of Canadian women that worked at home and waited.  She wrote “In my latest story, ‘Rilla of Ingleside,’ I have tried, as far as in me lies, to depict the fine and splendid way in which the girls of Canada reacted to the Great War–their bravery, patience and self-sacrifice.  The books is theirs in a sense in which none of my other books have been: for my other books werew written for anyone who might like to read them: but ‘Rilla’ was written for the girls of the great young land I love, whose destiny it will be their duty and privilege to shape and share.”  Lefebvre and McKenzie go on to say “Rilla of Ingleside thus pictures, as no other war novel of its time does, a uniquely Canadian perspectie about the women and families who battled to keep the home fires burning throughout this tumultuous era.”

Frankly, I can’t think of another novel, from any country, written so closely after the war that takes the time to talk about the home front.  So, I lift my glass to Montgomery for writing this wonderful book in the first place.  And I lift my glass to Benjamin Lefebvre and Andrea McKenzie for working so hard to put this book in a wider context and give it the attention it so richly deserves.

For now, United States readers have to order this book directly from Canada.  Here’s hoping that one day it will be easily available in the United States.  The good news is that the exchange rate is currently almost even.  Trust me–you need this book in your personal library.

A Tale of Two Emilys

It’s gotta be tough having a star for a sister.  You know you’re special, but how do you get your chance to shine?   If in some alternate universe, all of an author’s creations were to meet, would Emily Starr get in a cat fight with Anne Shirley?  Would Emily Webster be jealous of Betsy Ray?

I’ve always found it somewhat ironic that when discussing either the Anne series or the Betsy-Tacy series, someone will periodically sigh and say “I really like Anne (or Betsy), but Emily speaks to me in such a different way.  I adore her.”  What are the odds that these much-beloved but not quite as famous characters just happen to share the same name?  But this sentiment, though spoken often, is usually spoken quietly.  It’s not quite sacrilege, but there’s this underlying feeling that we’re supposed to like the big name, the name that made the author famous, more.  But  somehow, there’s a passion for these two very different and yet very similiar Emilys.

Emily of Deep Valley: A Deep Valley BookIn celebration of the recent re-issue of Emily of Deep Valley, an event that has been heralded throughout the land, I present to you: A Tale of Two Emilys.  These wonderful characters have so much in common, yet both are often ignored in favor of the bigger star of Anne or Betsy.  I read these two books back to back, knowing that these two characters had some similiarities, but hadn’t realized how much they truly had in common.  Basically, if you love one Emily, you’ll probably love the other too.

Emily of New MoonBoth Emily’s are orphans, though they’re not orphans like Anne Shirley.  They live with family, even though that family doesn’t always understand them.  Aunt Elizabeth doesn’t get Emily’s sense of humor or her need to write.  Grandpa Webster doesn’t understand Emily’s desire for college.  But Emily Starr contiues to write, and Emily Webster continues to learn.  Lovelace wrote about Grandpa Webster and Emily:

He looked up quickly.  “Your last day of school?”

“Yes, and not just for this year.  I’m graduating.  Do you remember, Grandpa?

“That’s right,” he answered in a pleased tone.  “You told me you were.  Now you’ll be at home all the time.”

Emily was silent.

“I wouldn’t let you stop until you finished high school,” said the old man, sounding proud.  “Would I, Emmy?”

Both girls have slow, shy smiles.  Emily Starr finds her first real friend in Rhoda Stuart, only to be dumped as soon as someone more interesting came along.  But then Emily finds her true friends–Ilse, Perry and Teddy.  Emily Webster never quite fit in with her cousin Annette and her crowd and is even more out of the loop once they head off to college.  But then she makes friends throughout her community–friends in Gwen Fowler, Yusif and Kalil, and of course, Jed Wakeman.  Can I digress just a moment to let you know how dreamy I find Mr. Jed?  Yep, of all the love interests created by Lovelace, he just might be my favorite.  Double sigh.

Both girls make the best of their situation.  Emily Starr finds the scraps of paper to write and write and write.  She doesn’t let herself be cowed by Aunt Elizabeth (sometimes I wish I had a “Murray look” of my own!).  Emily puts up her hair and begins to fill her time with things that interest her–dancing lessons and piano lessons and the Browning club and the Wrestling Champs and English lessons for the Syrian women. 

Both girls live in a home full of old-fashioned traditions–traditions that they love, even though they both acknowledge that other people may not understand.  New Moon still burns candles; the little house on the slough is decorated just as Emily’s grandmother left it.  And though neither girl really resents these traditions at the beginning of the novel, they embrace by the end in a way they hadn’t before.  Montgomery wrote:

“I suppose you’ll not like candles very well, Emily, after being used to lamps at Wyther Grange,” said Aunt Laura with a little sigh. . .

Emily looked around her thoughtfully.  One candle sputtered and bobbed at her as if greeting her.  One, with a long wick, glowed and smouldered like a sulky little demon.  One had a tiny flame–a sly, meditative candle.  One swayed with a queer fiery grace in the draught from the door.  One burned with a steady upright flame like a faithful soul.

“I–don’t know–Aunt Laura,” she answered slowly.  “You can be–friends–with candles.  I believe I like the candles best after all.”

Aunt Elizabeth, coming in from the cook-house, heard her.  Something like pleasure gleamed in her gulf-blue eyes.

“You have some sense in you,” she said.

I really, really adore both of these books.  It’s been a while since I’ve reread either of them, and their magic just washed over me.  Montgomery has this richness in language that some people might call “purple” but it feels like home to me.  But there are such pointed insights into people and emotions and the world around us that it can take my breath away–and most importantly, makes me stay up far too late reading.  Sometimes the observations seem so obvious, but no one has laid them out in quite the way that Montgomery does.  For instance, chapter 21 “Romantic but not Comfortable” opens like this:

A certain thing happened at New Moon because Teddy Kent paid Ilse Burnly a compliment one day and Emily Starr didn’t altogether like it.  Empires have been overturned for the same reason.

Lovelace doesn’t use as many words as Montgomery, but her observations are no less sharp.  I just love this exchange between Emily and Grandpa Webster:

“Emmy,” he asked.  “Is Jed courting you?” . . .

“Why, Grandpa!” Emily cried.  “What makes you say a thing like that?’

“Well,” he answered defiantly, “it looks that way to me.  It’s flowers, flowers, flowers!  And candy, candy, candy!  And books!  And shows!  And picture of Abraham Lincoln for me, although he’s a rebel and he admits it.  By Jingo, I know courting when I see it!  I went couring once myself.”

Both of these books are deeply satisfying.  And the new edition of Emily of Deep Valley is even more satisfying.    Included is a bit of background on the woman, Maguerite Marsh, on whom Emily is loosely based and a too short biography of Vera Neville.  Mitali Perkins wrote an amazing foreword, one that I’m not ashamed to admit made me tear up a bit.  It’s one of those essays that speaks eloquently to the power of the right book at the right time.

And maybe that’s what’s most important about Emily Starr and Webster.  For so many girls, these books have been the right book at the right time.  As Mitali wrote in her foreward “Yes, Emily has many likeable character traits, but unlike Betsy, she isn’t best friend material at all.  Why not, you might be wondering?  Well, because Emily is me.”

For the to-read list

Wonderful, wonderful interview with Benjamin Lefebvre, one of the leading scholars on L. M. Montgomery and her work.  Not too long ago, he edited The Blythes Are Quoted, which is essentially her final manuscript that was published very differently from the way she envisioned.

He’s coming out with a new edition of Rilla of Ingleside, one of my all-time favorite books that is filled with all the great WWI historical details that I crave.  I love that they’re answering all those questions right in the same volume and can’t wait to check it out.  Isn’t it just beautiful?


Highly recommend the article linked to above.  And check out his blog too!

I believe I have officially started my Christmas wish list. . .