Best Gift Ever

A few months ago, I was reading ‘Frontier Wolf’ by Rosemary Sutcliff, a historical novel about a Roman army officer sent to England to command a fort on the Antonine Wall.  I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books and young adult books lately. Mostly so I can then have Mr. C read the good ones once he’s old enough to read them, but also because I missed out on a lot of good books when I was a kid.

A few pages in the style reminded me of a book I had read when I was a kid.  What was the name of that book?   The more I read, the more it bothered me.  It reminded me so much of a book I had read when I was about ten years old.  Then I remembered that I didn’t finish that book. I had to return it to the library before I was done. This was years before libraries offered renewals of books.  Once three weeks were up, you had to return the book or get fined.   What was the title of that book, and was it really a Rosemary Sutcliff book ?  At about the same time I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the science of memory.  There’s actually a German word for this experience.  The zeigarnuk effect, which is what happens when unfinished thoughts or activities weigh on the mind more than those that have been completed.

First,  I checked a list of all the books she wrote.  From the titles alone nothing seemed familiar.  I did remember a few details of the plot though.  There were two children living in a village in England where the towns people were preparing for an invasion of Vikings, and I remembered that there was a Viking holding a shield on the cover. A Google search of “Sutcliff Viking book”  brought up the familiar book cover that I was trying to remember from forty or so years ago, “The Shield Ring”.

Apparently it is a difficult book to find in the U.S., at least in the hardcover edition that I remember.  It was first published in 1956 and appeared in hardcover in only one edition, most of which went to the library market. Oh well, I thought, I guess I’ll never find that book, I thought.

Months later, a package arrives in the mail.

A gift from Ms. J for my birthday.


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead


Here’s a quick review of one of the books on Mr. C’s shelf.  He thinks it’s hilarious that I’ve been reading the books we’ve accumulated for him, but I like to check out books before he reads them to see if they’re any good first.

‘When You Reach Me’, by Rebecca Stead, published 2009, it was awarded the Newberry Award in 2010.  This is the story of Miranda, a sixth grader living  with her single Mother.  We’re introduced to her routine, her walk to school, the places she likes to go, her group of friends.  All with a great deal of details of the time and setting, New York City in the mid 1970’s, which should appeal to any adult who lived through that time.  Amanda’s mother tries to become a contestant on the TV game show ‘The $20,000 Pyramid’, which I remember being a big hit when I was a kid.  There’s also plenty of details of how hard it was to be a single parent in the 70’s, such as deciding what to make for dinner or paying the rent.  Amanda  starts to receive mysterious notes, placed in her room by she does not know who.  From the way they are written it becomes apparent that something strange is going on. The notes seem to be written in odd verb tenses, were they written in the past, and she is just finding them now ?  Or is it possible that they are from the future ?

“I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.”

Miranda then tries to figure out who is leaving these notes for her, carefully questioning her classmates without seeming to be a crazy person.  As a subplot, she is also trying to figure out why her friend Sal was punched while walking home from school, by another kid that neither of them know, for apparently no reason.  Hmm… maybe those two stories will meet up by the end of the book. If you’ve seen a few episodes of ‘The Twilight Zone’ you’ll probably figure out the mystery fairly quickly, but I doubt that a kid will figure it out.   Rebecca Stead references the classic ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ throughout the book, both as Amanda’s favorite book, and in a variety of plot points.  This is good and bad in that it gives so much away to the adults who are reading it, but for a kid I’m guessing that it just adds to the mystery, and could lead them to read that book as well if they have not already.

This is the type of children’s book that will most likely make a strong impression on middle grade kids. There are books I read years ago that I’ve bought for Mr. C, some of which he likes and some have barely registered for him.  Must be a generational thing, there are just some books that become classics, but maybe just for those people who read them when they were published.   An older kid than Mr. C, maybe age 8 or so, will read and remember this as their favorite book.  For adults reading it to their kids, while they might appreciate the period details, they’ll probably prefer the book that made that big impression on them when they were eight, such as ‘A Wrinkle in Time’.

This is a bit too advanced for Mr. C for now, it’s probably a good fit for kids aged 8 and up. Especially those who like things like ‘A Wrinkle in Time’.








Bob, Son of Battle

I didn’t really read a lot when I was a kid.  I could read, of course, but I didn’t really start a habit of reading on a continual basis until I was at least a teenager.  So, since I missed out on a lot of the books that are written primarily for children, I’ve been reading a lot of “Young Adult” books lately, both old books and newly published ones as well.  Once I find good ones I read them to Mr. C, or if they are too advanced for him now, I’ll at least keep track of them to read to him when he is older.

Recently, while browsing the remainder table of a bookstore,  I came across some children’s books published by New York Review Books.  NYRB specializes in reprinting neglected and out of print fiction, mostly adult fiction, but they do also have a large selection of books for children.  One of the books on the remainder table was Bob, Son of Battle by Alfred Ollivant.  From the cover, it appeared to be a story about a dog, and since Mr. C loves dogs, and I usually like books from this publisher, I bought it.

Once I came home, Ms. J told me that she thought that she might have an old copy of the book in a box somewhere. I thought I’d compare the two editions and was amazed that I actually found the original in our stack of boxes in the garage.    Here they are, old and new.


I thought I would just have to compare how the books were published, book nerd things like differences in the illustrations, and fonts,  but then I saw the note on the front cover of the new edition “A new edition by Lydia Davis”.   It seems that the new edition is a “reinterpretation” of the original book by Alfred Ollivant.  According to a blurb on the back cover, Lydia Davis has “rendered the challenging idioms of the original into fluent and graceful English of our day.”.    When I bought the new edition, I didn’t know anything about the book or the author.  I’ve since learned that it was a popular children’s book when it was first published in 1898, there is also a sequel ‘Danny’, published in 1902.  The dialogue is written in the dialect of the setting, Northern England area of Cumbria.   I then assumed that any changes to the original, more than 100 year old children’s book, would only be to make the dialog easier to read.

Here’s a sample of some dialog from the original, the speaker is a farmer who is bragging about his dog, the title character, Bob:

“G’long, Sam’l Todd!” he cried. “Yo’ never happy unless yo making’ yo’self miser’ble. I niver see such a chap. Never win agin?  Why, oor young Bob he’ll mak’ a right un. I tell yo’, and I should know. Not as what he’ll touch Rex son o’ Rally, mark ye! I’m niver saying’ so, Sam’l Todd. Ah, he was a one, was Rex. I could tell yo’ a tale or two o’ Rex.

At first, it can be a bit hard to understand, but imagine reading it aloud to a six year old. You can’t help but read it in the same dialect, waving your arms around acting like the farmer in the story. At least that’s what I do!

And now here’s the same passage in the new edition:

“Come, come Samuel Todd!” he cried. “You’re never happy unless you’re making yourself miserable. I’ve never seen such a chap. Never win again?  Why, our young Bob will be a fine example, I tell you, and I should know. Not that he’ll be anything like as great as Rex, son of Rally, mind you!

I can see why they “updated’ the dialogue.  The updated version is easier to read, I suppose.  Though there’s no acting required here to show the character of the speaker, you can just easily read the updated dialog. Definitely easier, but a bit bland. Sometime it will also loose the true meaning when it is updated.  Here’s a passage that was updated, most likely for political correctness; “A proper Gray Dog, I tell yo’.  Wi’ the brains of a man and the way of a woman. Ah, yo’ canna beat ’em nohow, the Gray Dogs o’ Kenmuir!”  The updated version reads;  “A proper Gray Dog, I tell you. As clever as any person, and as gentle as the spring sunshine. Ah, you can’t beat ’em, the Gray Dogs of Kenmuir!”.   The meaning is just about the same, but also not really the same.

Only the dialogue in the original could be considered difficult to read. The rest of the book is written in fairly standard prose of the time.  Maybe the changes to the dialog would be OK, if that was the only thing changed, but unfortunately it is not.  It seems as though the whole book has been rewritten, not just the dialog, but words, descriptions, entire paragraphs are changed.


‘In the kitchen, a long room with a red-tiled floor and latticed windows, a woman, white aproned and frail faced, was bustling about her morning business.”


‘The kitchen was a long room with a floor of red tiles and windows covered in patterns of crisscrossing ironwork. In it, a woman in a white apron with a delicate face was bustling about her morning work.’

I don’t get it, is “latticed” a hard word to understand ?

One more example, the farmer’s wife is encouraging a neighbor boy to have breakfast:

“I welly thowt yo’d forgot us this mornin’. Noo sit you’ doon, beside oor Maggie.”  And soon he, too was engaged in a task twin to the girl’s.

New version:

“I really thought you’d forgot us this morning. Now you sit down beside our Maggie.” And soon he was bending over his own bowl of bread and milk.

What’s wrong with ‘engaged in a task twin to the girl’s.’?   I think if a kid is reading this, and has made it this far into the book, it’s only page 7, then they probably can figure it out.  The new version has completely removed the style of the old.  All of the examples above are taken from just the first eight pages of the book.  Oh well, no returns on remainder books.   I think I’ll stick with the old version.








Found in a book

We have a lot of old books in the house, most of which we acquired at used bookstores or library book sales. They’re not very valuable, most of the time used books stores will sell them for a dollar or two, and library book sales will sometimes jut give them away.  Something I like to do is check to see if there is any writing or dedication in the book by a previous owner. This seems to be much more common in older books than it is now.  More often than not there will be a gift note or some kind of message written on the title page.  It seems to have Here’s a few of the more interesting things I’ve found.


Mostly, the notes are just signatures of the previous owner.  If the name is unusual I try to Google it, but since the books are so old I usually don’t find much.  Here’s one that I did find something about.  In a 1912 edition of the Baedeker travel guide for Belgium and Holland is written the name and address of a previous owner; Horace Morison, 8 Bishopsgate Street, London.  I bought the book at a used book store here in New Hampshire, so I wondered how a book that was owned by someone in London ended up here.  Since the name would seem to be uncommon, I did a search and found a Horace Morison who was from New Hampshire. He  graduated from Harvard with a degree in Law, later in life he worked for the American Red Cross in London.


Here’s the list of places he was planing to visit in Belgium and Holland.


I like the old maps in Baedeker guides.

Here’s another one

‘Harry   From Mamma   Merry Xmas 1897’


Here’s another one that I found something out about.  This book was given to John D Davis from the Tribune for his prize winning letter.     Since Mr. Davis had written his address in the book on a different page, I found out that he lived in the Chicago area.  A brief story about him in his local paper from 1941 explained that he had once been a  textile importer who made several trips to Burma and India during the 1930’s, but he could no longer make his sales trip since WWII had made trips to that area impossible.

Who can write like this now ?  Cursive writing is just not being taught like it used to be.

Here’s a book that was given to a student for his penmanship.  It’s in an old children’s book.


However, the penmanship of this note is not as clear.  Someone named Finch received this book as a Christmas gift in 1937 from his cousin May.


Here’s the best penmanship of them all.

Prof. C.E. Lord from Joseph C Sibley Jr. Christmas 1904.

The bad news is that the used book store that we found most of these books has recently closed, so our source of inexpensive old books is now gone!


New Books

Well, not exactly new books, since they are from a library book sale, but they are new to me.   Since I’m trying to cut down on the number of books I get for myself, I concentrated on finding books for Mr. C at the sale.



Just a few of the books are library discards, most had been donated by local readers for the sale.   I was aware of just a few of these before I picked them up, do you know any of them ?

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen – I didn’t know that Hiaasen had written any children’s books, this one looks like its for older kids.

The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon –   This is a collection of short stories, with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone.  I will admit to judging this book by the cover since Mr. C loves Ardizzone’s ‘Tim’ series of sea adventure stories.  While I know Edward Ardizzone, I don’t know much about Eleanor Farjeon.

The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge – This one was apparently written in the 1850’s, much earlier than I had expected.

The Alley by Eleanor Estes – We read ‘Ginger Pye’ earlier this year. This one is a library discard, which I usually avoid since they tend to be damaged or worn out, but this one is in great shape.  I was happy to find this copy as it has all of the original Edward Ardizzone illustrations.  I like how her ‘Ginger Pye’ and ‘Pinky Pye’ books have been reprinted recently.  Both have new cover art, but they retain the Ardizzone illustrations with the interior text.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall – I’ve seen this book before, but don’t know much about it besides knowing that it’s the first in a series.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – Another one that I’m sure I’ve seen before.  I only know that it received a Newberry Award in 2009.

The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt – I know Babbitt wrote ‘Tuck Everlasting’, but that’s all.

The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall – This book was originally published in the UK as ‘The Minnipins’.  I’m not sure why the title was changed for the American market.  From the cover description, the story seems to be similar to ‘The Hobbit’. A group of the minnipins go on a journey in search of the title ‘Gammage Cup’.

The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks – All I know about Banks is that she wrote ‘The Indian in the Cupboard’.  This one also seems to resemble ‘The Hobbit’, but with a young girl as the main character.

Journey Outside by Mary Steele – This one seems to be a bit odd. It seems to be about an ocean world where people live on rafts. I wonder if it influenced that ‘Water World’ movie from a few years ago.

Hmmm.. where to start ?



The Moomins

We were traveling last week, and in between stops we checked out a small library.  The children’s librarian there had just started a scavenger hunt for a group of kids.  Each kid was handed a list of 12 clues, which included such questions as ‘What will you find in the 910 section of the library ?’ (Geography & Travel), ‘What is above the stairway to the basement ?’ (A model of a four masted schooner).  At the end of the hunt, each kid could pick out a free book to take home.

Seemed like a great idea to get kids involved in the library, and also to give away some used books, so off Mr. C went on the scavenger hunt, with our help.  At the end, he could pick something out from a box of books, most of which were library discards.

There among the super hero movie  and toy tie-ins was something that looked familiar.  About a year or so ago, Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings wrote a post about the Moomin series of books by Tove Jansson, and there in the box was ‘Moominsummer Madness’.   I had not read any of the books when I was growing up, and had never heard of them before I read her review, but from her reviews of some of the books in the series, it at least appeared to be the best of the lot.



The Moomins are creatures who live in Moominvalley, getting into a series of adventures in eight books that were published from 1946 through 1970.  They always manage to get into some kind of catastrophe, but manage to end up fine in the end.

Since she can write about the series better than I can, here’s a link to one of the reviews on Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

I especially like Jansson’s artwork, with just enough detail so you know what’s happening, but still leaving something to the imagination. Check out this illustration of the Moomins coming through the forest to see some new mysterious creature.  Using the black ink to create shadows, you know those are big trees, and the forest is supposed to be a little bit menacing. Even though there are no other creatures shown in the trees, maybe there are others in that dark forest ?  Those are the Moomins in the foreground, they look a bit like rounded off hippos.



Here’s a detailed map of Moominvalley.



It has quickly become Mr. C’s favorite book.

‘Read it again!’  Mr. C said at bedtime.

After breakfast he said ‘Finish eating quick so we can read some more!’

‘Let’s read that book some more!’  He said after lunch.

‘You know, there are more books in the series, we’ll have to check some out of the library.’ I said.

‘Go to the library now and get more!’ he said.

It’s been the first series that Mr. C has been so excited to read.  When we went to our own local library today, he was very excited to see that the library had recently purchased hardcover editions of five of the books, so we’ll be reading more soon!

Tintin Versus Advanced Myopia

Here’s another example of how old I am.

Mr. C and I have been reading Tintin lately, and since we’ve read the two Tintin books that we have at home, I thought I’d order one that he had not read yet.

Here’s what one of our copies looks like.  It’s a large format paperback,  looks like it’s about 12″ by 9″.  The artwork is reproduced nicely, and the large format makes font easy to read.



So I go online to order some additional Tintin stories and I notice a nice hardcover edition that includes three stories, so I order that one.

And here it is below.   It’s a very nice hardcover, with lots of additional information about the author, how he worked, and his inspirations.  Notice, however, how much smaller it is than the paperback ?   I didn’t notice the dimensions of the book when I ordered it.  Oh well, what’s the difference, you ask ?




Well, for my old man eyes this smaller size means that I really can’t read this without a fairly bright light overhead, which Mr. C’s room does not have, and even if it did it wouldn’t make for relaxing bedtime reading anyway.



So what I do is make up a lot of the story instead of giving myself a headache trying to read that 2 point type.

“How are we ever going to get out of this jail, Scruffy ?”

“The dog’s name is Snowy, Dada.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right, OK, let’s see what’s on the next page.”

“I like this story better when Mommy reads it.”

Bifocals here I come!