Birthday wish lists, then and now

Texas summers are an ideal time to go through those boxes and random places you throw stuff to get it out of the way. After all, it’s far too hot to do any outside chores. Last weekend, I went through a stack of things my mother had given me years ago in an effort to clean out her own hidden piles. In it was a birthday present wish list from when I was 10. Here’s the first page.


Notice the inclusion of Anne of Ingleside? Guess I hadn’t made it through the whole series quite yet. The timing of the rediscovery was perfect–it was the day after I had received a truly remarkable Anne birthday present. How has Anne Shirley been a part of my life and my wish lists for over 30 years?

I’ve written about Anne more than any other character on this blog. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first read Anne–probably 8 or 9, a few years after the Anne of Green Gables mini-series. I do remember how I was introduced to her–completely by accident! Remember those delightful Scholastic order forms you would get in elementary school? I really wanted A Little Princess because I had seen the Shirley Temple movie and wanted to read the book. There was a 2 for 1 special, and Anne of Green Gables was automatically included. I’m sure I didn’t read Anne right away–after all, I had never heard of her. But when I did, I quickly became obsessed. And clearly, it’s an obsession that has staying power.

Over the decades, I’ve built a fairly impressive Anne collection. My preference is for serendipitous discoveries in antique stores, though I have bought a few things off of eBay. I have many, many versions of the books, including a first edition, 4th printing of Anne. I have dolls and tea cups and post cards and illustrations of Green Gables. Of course, I have things for some of my other book loves, especially Little Women  and Little House on the Prairie. But I definitely have more Anne things than anything else.

Part of my collecting bug is my fascination with how Anne has been adapted and remade over the decades, from bizarre book covers to the many, many film adaptations. Often, this feels like watching a train wreck, but I can’t turn away. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few things from the 1934 version, including the amazing study guide pictured below. And there’s that extra element of interest since the actress fell so in love with the character that she changed her name. Talk about obsession.


But I had never been able to find anything relating to the 1919 silent film version. This is one of the countless silent films that didn’t survive. For it’s added bit of fun, the people involved ended up in a bit of a scandal. There were rumors of an affair between the actress, Mary Miles Minter, and the director, William Desmond Taylor, and then he was murdered in 1922. The case is still unsolved. And there are certainly theories that Minter was somehow involved in his death.

Years ago, I had a bid on a poster from the movie and lost it at the last moment. It is one of my great eBay regrets. At some point a few years ago, I mentioned this to my friend Jenn. I have no memory of telling her this story, but we travel together pretty regularly so we have certainly talked about all sorts of things.

For my 40th birthday, she gave me this.


Isn’t it beautiful? She had mentioned my wish to a friend of hers that keeps an eye on this sort of thing–and he’s been looking for almost 2 years. I was absolutely amazed at the thoughtfulness–and dedication required–for this gift.

There isn’t anything else on my birthday wish list from 30 years ago that I would still want today. But Anne is still there–she’s almost always been there. Milestone birthdays are a time to reflect, and it’s comforting to realize that certain things in my life have remained so constant over the years. Now to find the right spot to hang my new treasure!

Mrs. Rachel Lynde Would Not Approve

When a favorite book is adapted for the screen, I try to keep an open mind. I really, really do. And there were reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the latest Anne of Green Gables movie. The casting of Anne was more age appropriate. It was filmed on Prince Edward Island. And the granddaughter of author L. M. Montgomery was involved.


But I was also smart. I knew I needed to watch with friends. And perhaps some sort of alcohol. On Saturday night, I made clam chowder and a few friends came over. Within the first few minutes, Ashley had already declared “Minus one point for Matthew falling into a puddle of manure!” Someone else declared “Half a point for it being filmed on PEI.” And then I said “Should we keep score? Do we even dare?”

For a little while, things were almost even. Not quite, but almost. And then it went straight downhill. At the end of the night, our score sheet read:

Points For: 14

Points Against: 317.5

So, what were our problems? In most cases, the casting and the characterizations just weren’t right. Matthew was too chatty and portrayed as a bumbling fool. Marilla was too soft. Anne was just way too happy. That streak of sadness and longing that is so critical to her character wasn’t there. Diana took the lead on the imagining (though she looked right.) Gilbert. Oh Gilbert. They lost 150 points for that casting decision. Rachel Lynde, Mrs. Barry, and Mr. Phillips were about the only casting decisions we thought they got right.

There were details that just weren’t right—and we can’t understand why certain changes were made. Sure, only a fan would be outraged that Anne told Marilla her parents died when she was five. But a key part of the books is that Anne had no memories of her parents, because they died when she was a few months old.

The pacing was very odd. We kept pausing and wondering how they were going to wrap things up in the time they had left. And then Anne suddenly fell through some ice and Matthew hopped on a sled to rescue her and we just lost it. At this point, I stopped the movie and got out the whiskey. I believe curse words were used. And one really shouldn’t curse while watching Anne. Rachel Lynde wouldn’t approve.

The movie ended with Matthew taking Anne back to the train station because the orphanage had found a better home for her—WHICH NEVER HAPPENED AND COMPLETELY CHANGES THE STORY. Rachel tells Marilla to chase after them. All are united in a hug and the credits roll.  Ummm, what? Of course, now that I’ve learned that they’ll be making 2 more movies, I sorta understand. But I’m still not happy.

My mom asked me if people would still recognize the story if they picked up the book. And the answer is probably yes. And she asked me if it was a good movie if I didn’t know the books so well. But I think the answer to that is no. So much cheese was crammed into a 90 minute movie. Parts of it was beautiful, but there was so little character growth. And Anne was just annoying.

I believe that classics like Anne are incredibly important, and movies can do so much to bring them to a wider audience. But please, for the love of God, respect the characters.

At the end of the movie, Ashley declared “I have to make sure my niece never sees this movie.” And then we popped in the Megan Follows version. Flawed though it is, our beloved characters are still recognizable. And I didn’t start cursing at Kevin Sullivan until the third Anne movie. . .

My History with Harry

Some of you will think this is the post in which this blog, a blog primarily about historical fiction, jumps the shark.  After all, I’m pretty sure that even though Harry Potter is insanely popular, no one would classify his story as history.  But there are many, many ways in which history and children’s literature intersect.

But first I need to tell you my Harry Potter story.  There have been a lot of people talking this weekend about their love for Harry.  And maybe my story is just like theirs.  And maybe not.

I first discovered Harry the summer before my junior year of college, 1999.  I wanted something light before heading back to Hendrix, and I was starting to hear some buzz so I picked up Sorcerer’s Stone in paperback.  I liked it, but wasn’t quite head over heels yet.  A few weeks later, my boyfriend bought me Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban as an anniversary present.  That’s when the books went to a new level.

But something else pushed them over the top too–my copies got passed around to my core group of friends, the Galloway Girls.  They were the only books that all six of us, six women with very different tastes, had read.  And we kept talking about them.

Fast forward to the summer of 2000.  The Enchanted Forest (now tragically out of business) was hosting a release party for Goblet of Fire.  I really wanted to go, but it was a party at a children’s book store.  I wasn’t a child.  But!  My favorite nephew, Bobby, was a big fan of the books.  His dad had been reading them to him at bed time.  So, being the good aunt that I am, I offered to take Bobby to the party.  It was all about him, of course.

Bobby was Harry Potter for Halloween for several years.

I should better explain my friendship with Bobby and his family.  We’re not blood-related at all.  His parents and my parents became good friends through church.  I was Bobby’s first babysitter–and he was really the first kid I had known since he was in utero.  The only words that really work to explain us is aunt and nephew.

We had a great time at the party!  This was before the era of midnight releases, so it was actually a morning party.  They had folks dressed as characters, crafts (wands and brooms!) and a creature feature from the Dallas Zoo.  Bobby was not quite 8, so these characters were very, very real to him.  When we finally spotted the kid dressed as Harry, Bobby looked at me with his eyes wide: “Is that the REAL Harry Potter?”  I said yes.  He said “Do you think we can get a picture?”

His dad told me later: “After you left, Bobby said: ‘That was the Best Day of My Entire Life.”  That made me feel pretty good–after all, I had a pretty good time too.

I wound up attending release parties for all of the remaining books, though I never dressed up and only waited in line for my copy once.  For Order of the Phonenix, I went to a party at my favorite book store in Raleigh.  It was one of the last things I did before moving back to Texas.

For Half Blood Prince, I just happened to be arriving in Portland the day of the release.  Which meant that I was able to go to Powell’s gigantic block party.  It was AWESOME.  I have never seen so many people excited about a book in the same place.  Since it was the start of vacation, I didn’t buy the book until I got home.  Otherwise, I knew I would be no fun on the trip (and mom, a non-reader, would not have understood).  It was torture to fly home and see everyone else in the world reading it but me.  But I took an extra day off of work and caught up at home.

For Deathly Hallows, I went to a party at a local Barnes and Noble, but headed home at midnight.  Early the next morning, I picked up my reserved copy at my dad’s store, got a large coffee, and went home to read.  There were a lot of tears.

When the first movie came out, Bobby’s family and my family saw it together.  It was very nice of all the movies to come out either very close to Thanksgiving or in the summer.  In 2001, I was living in North Carolina for grad school, so we watched it together when I was home for the holiday.  We saw Chamber of Secrets with our families, as well as Prisoner of Azkaban.

When Goblet of Fire came out, there was a big debate about whether or not Bobby’s little sister was old enough for Goblet of Fire.  Her mom decided no, so Bobby and I went by ourselves to that one.  And we’ve seen every other movie, just us, ever since.  Sometimes we’ve seen it separately before seeing it together, but we’ve always seen it together.  Before each movie came out, I’d have this fear: would this be the year that Bobby said he didn’t want to go with me?  After all, we all know the horror stories about teenagers–surely, one day, I would be judged no longer cool.  But he never said “not this time.”

Bobby is about to start his senior year of high school.  It is truly hard to believe that the little guy pictured above is now taller than I am, dating cute girls and driving.  Seeing the last movie was loaded with meaning and emotion for me.  It wasn’t just about Harry’s story, but my story.  Memories of passing one set of books around the college dorm.  Memories of watching this really cool kid grow up.  We made plans to see it on Sunday.  As I told some friends, “there is a good possibility that I will be a complete and blubbering idiot throughout most of the movie.”  Because let’s be honest here: I was tearing up just thinking about watching it.  When we were driving to the theater, I told Bobby: “I have two requests.  #1:  We have to take pictures.  #2: I will probably cry a lot and you can’t make fun of me.”

The showing we aimed for, IMAX 3D,was sold out even though we got there way early.  Oops.  So we waited an hour and a half and watched it in 3D.  I did cry, but I don’t think I ever turned into the blubbering idiot I feared.  And the whole day was deeply satisfying.

So how is Harry historic?  Frankly, I don’t think we’ll ever see a literary phenomenon like this again.  Can you imagine families buying multiple copies of a book ever again?  Or staying up till midnight to get it?  The timing was incredible–just as the internet was taking off, but before e-readers dominated the marketplace.  Though there were plenty of online communities for books, there were none like the Harry Potter community.

This blog is really all about how childhood reading shapes us as adults.  An entire generation of kids, kids like Bobby, have grown up with Harry.  Harry is a profound part of their personal history.  And I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.  We don’t know what kinds of lives these kids will lead.  But if Harry’s their role model, well, I think our future is looking pretty bright.

Kindred Spirits

A few weeks ago, a friend said to me:

“I just got an ice cream maker.  So I’m thinking about having a party where we watch Anne of Green Gables and then break into the ice cream at the same time Anne tastes ice cream for the first time.  What do you think?”

I’ll give you one guess to figure out what I said.

Yes, you’re right.  I was thrilled!  Best party idea ever!

I should say a few words about this friend.  I have this tendency to categorize my friends, and she falls in the “museum friend” category–another educator at a history museum.  When she first moved to Texas, she called me up and said “I need a mentor.”  Or something like that.  I still find that incredibly ironic because a)she’s older than me and has lots more experience and b)I’ve probably learned more from her than she’s ever learned from me.  We quickly became good colleagues and have shared many a drink as we discussed various museum educator quandries.

But I didn’t realize our shared love of Anne until I invited her to a housewarming at my last apartment.  From my trip to PEI, I have a wonderful watercolor of Green Gables.  It’s like a secret password–to most folks, it’s just an old house.  A picture of an old house makes sense in the home of someone that has been working in historic house museums for years.  But to those that are kindred spirits, well, it’s GREEN GABLES!!  At any rate, when she saw that picture she squealed “Green Gables!!”  And then I learned that she dragged her husband to PEI for their honeymoon.  That may have been the moment that our friendship went to a new level.

So, her party thrilled me for a couple of reasons.  Chief among them was my ability to say to another friend (who was invited but didn’t come): “See, it’s not just me!  I’m not the only person you know who has this crazy love of Anne!” (this other friend thinks that I’m making my Betsy-Tacy friends up. . .)   It has also been years since I’ve watched the movie.  And finally, it gave me an excuse to make raspberry cordial again.

I would classify raspberry cordial as one of those iconic literary foods.  When you hear the name, well, don’t you just automatically think of Anne?  And how often do you hear about raspberry cordial and Anne isn’t referenced somehow?  I made the recipe from Kate MacDonald’s cookbook, which means it was a non-alcoholic cordial.  Just raspberry cordial is a bit much, so we added some Sprite and man, it was tasty.  As was the ice cream!  Isn’t the cordial pretty?  Please excuse the containers–I did not want a raspberry interior in my car. . .

Watching any movie with friends is a bit different than watching a movie alone.  I honestly have no idea how long it’s been since I’ve watched Anne from start to finish.  This time around, I really noticed the humor.  Montgomery had this sharp, ironic edge to her pen.  Of course, Anne’s dramatic flair can get a little tiring, but I’m still amazed at how much dialog was lifted straight from the books.

And though the scene where Matthew died didn’t make me cry, the scene where Anne tells Marilla that she’s staying in Avonlea and giving up college for the time being did make me tear up.  Some members of the party will insist that I started crying much earlier in the movie.  This is not true–my eyes were tearing up from a combination of allergies and laughter.  Not the fact that Marilla finally said that Anne could stay.

But it was so good to watch and laugh and enjoy that movie with friends.  And ice cream and raspberry cordial.  There are lots of other folks gathering to watch a literary movie tonight as well, a movie that will likely make a few more dollars than Anne ever did.  Still, even though we may always be frustrated at what the movies mess up, there’s something magical about watching a decent movie based on a book you love.  Reading can be such a solitary experience, but watching a movie doesn’t have to be.  I know the standard line for readers is that “a movie is never as good as the book.”  My personal attitude is: as long as people won’t be horribly confused if they pick up the book after watching the movie, I’m good.  As long as any plot changes still make sense with the character’s personality, I’m good.

So yes, I can live with Anne of Avonlea, but we will not speak of the third Anne movie. 

And sometime in the next week, I’ll totally be in a movie theater, bawling my eyes out at the last Harry Potter movie.

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?