Sunday, April 30, 2017

CCLE - From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

And so ends my classic children's books for the month of April. And by far, my top favorite read for this month is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. This is another one of those books that was my sister's childhood favorite, but that I had never read, although I have seen both film versions, one starring Ingrid Bergman from 1973 and the other with Lauren Bacall from 1995.

But the book has a special magic to it. I can relate to a little girl who wants so desperately for her life to change, for her to be different, that she plans the perfect runaway scheme, taking with her only a musical instrument case full of clothes and her little brother who also happens to be the moneybags in the family. I remember a few times where I was so hungry to be understood and appreciated that I tried running away from home too. Although whereas I only made it a few blocks from home, Claudia and Jamie make it all the way into New York City where they proceed to make the Metropolitan Museum their home for a week. Remember, this book was written in 1967, long before they had things like security video cameras.

And that's why I love it. This is a book of glorious imaginings and possibilities, long before the incredible wave of technology wiped a lot of magic out of our lives. Claudia makes sense to me. She helps out so much at home, being the oldest child, but she feels her family doesn't appreciate her and doesn't understand her. She yearns to be special, to be different, to do something glorious with her life, to be the heroine of her own story.

And this book helps her along that path, giving her a secret to keep, a secret about the new Angel statue at the museum that may or may not have been carved by Michelangelo, but she and Jamie discover the truth by tracking down the prior owner, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

My favorite moment in the whole book is near the end. Claudia spends a great deal of time in this story wanting to learn everything about everything, to always be learning new things, ever single day. But Mrs. Frankweiler has news for her.

She says, "I don't agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate factors, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."

That's a truly glorious sentiment, and that's why I love to take time to just bask in the things I already know, usually the things related to Christ. It's a beautiful feeling, a moment of certain clarity in the hubbub of life's craziness.

Out of all the books I've read for this challenge, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is the one I hope every child has a chance to read. It's encouraging beyond description.

And this is my farewell to Amanda's Classic Children's Literature Event 2017! I can't believe I managed to read 4 books this time around!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

CCLE - The Borrowers by Mary Norton (1952)

The Borrowers by Mary Norton is my 3rd book for the Classic Children's Literature Event.

This one is actually a re-read; my childhood was peppered with a love of the Borrowers and then another group of tiny people called The Littles. But the Borrowers don't have tails like the Littles, so they are slightly different.

The Borrowers are Pod and Homily Clock and their daughter Arrietty and they happen to live underneath the kitchen floor of a rather old house owned by Aunt Sophy and run by Mrs. Driver the housekeeper and Crampfurl their man-of-all-work. The Clock's story is first told to a little girl named Kate by her aunt who happened to be the sister to a Boy who moved into the house unexpectedly. Naturally, any little boy who happens to move into a house with just adults is liable to be curious, and he stumbles quite by accident across the Clock family. Imagine meeting a family of tiny little people while you happen to be reclining in the garden?

There's a good chance that a lot of modern children wouldn't understand many of the phrases in this book, but at the same time, this is a great chance to develop a child's understanding different eras, and not just lock them in to the modern sensibilities that we see today. I think that's one of the best reasons to encourage children to read historic literature; it deepens them in profound ones, at least, it does when the books have something deeper to share.

This is only the first book in a long series of adventures, and I love it so much that I intend to keep reading the series, something I wish that I'd done as a child. There's just enough imagination to feed my love of nostalgic stories, but just enough reality to keep the reader grounded. It's a brilliant book.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

CCLE - Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald (1947)

My sister read a ton of children's fiction growing up. She had diverse tastes (still does), and so her books were a little bit of everything, including the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series. I was pretty much a Hardy Boys kinda girl, so our tastes almost never crossed, but now that we're both adults, I'm actually trying some of her favorite books when she was a kid. Hence my rather odd choice of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for this challenge.

I LOVED it. You have this dear older widow woman who befriends pretty much every child in her small town, invites them into her upside-down house (the chandeliers are on the floor, etc.) and just lets them play and be creative. Eventually word gets out that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle knows children, so whenever children in the town start to rebel, inevitably the parents seek out Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for her "cures." Like the little boy who doesn't like to clean his room; she just advises them to let the mess get so big that he can't get out of his room and starts missing out on adventures with his friends. He'll have no choice but to clean his space. And the once sweet little girl who starts back-talking like crazy, so Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle loans the family her parrot who is the queen of back-talk and shows the child just how nasty the habit is. You've got the radish cure for the little girl who refuses to bathe and whose parents plant radishes in the accumulating dirt on her skin one night, and the children who don't want to go to bed on time so the parents let them stay up as late as they want without saying a word until the children are so exhausted and crabby they beg to go to bed on time.

The book is organized a little like the Mary Poppins books, but if I were to choose a favorite between the two, it would be Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle hands-down. She's a charming, delightful woman whose love of children and her neighbors is absolutely genuine. The lessons learned are all valuable since they address bad habits, and this first book in the series has "practical" cures instead of magic cures like in the later books. I'm not sure that I'll read any farther in the series, but I highly recommend the first Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a delightful read for your little ones, especially read out-loud for story time once chapter at a time!

Read for the Children's Classic Literature Event hosted by Amanda at Simpler Pastimes!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

CCLE - Mary Poppins Comes Back by P.L. Travers (1935)

It's that time again! Time for the Classic Children's Literature Event hosted by Amanda at Simpler Pastimes!

My first read of the event is Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers, originally published in 1935. I never imagined myself attempting to reconnect with this character since I didn't much care for the first book in the series, not because of the author's writing style, but simply because Mary Poppins is not a likable character.

However, I did pick up Mary Poppins Come Back and did read it faithfully from start to finish. These books are written rather like Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, in that each chapter is a separate vignette that eventually forms a clearer picture of the characters' lives and personalities. I'm still not entirely sold on the formatting, but it does hold its own form of enchantment for readers, like a collection of short stories all written about the same characters.

As for the book itself, Jane and Michael are the oldest children in the Banks' family, followed by twins John and Barbara and then darling little Annabel, the infant who joins the family halfway through the book. Mary Poppins, of course, is their nanny/governess, and just like the first time, she randomly appears because the children are once again in need of her. Instead of blowing in on a breeze however, now she floats down from the heavens on a kite string. Very Poppinsish of her.

The chapters are all individual tales, like I said, within the main book. We have a chance to meet Mr. Banks' nanny from his childhood (an unpleasant dictator of a woman), travel with Jane into the painting of a bowl where she nearly gets trapped, meet a relation of Mary Poppins named Mr. Turvy, learn that their boy-of-all-work Robertson Ay is actually a book character called the Dirty Rascal, fly to the sky where all the constellations put on a circus for Mary Poppins and the children, bounce around the park with the neighborhood on balloons that all magically have the owners' names printed on them, watch Mary Poppins and some very strange wooden people bring spring to the neighborhood, and finally, watch Mary Poppins ride a carousel in the park that eventually steals her away from the children.

Whewww. Like I said, each chapter is an individual vignette and there are 10 of them in total. Some of the stories, like the one with Mr. Turvy and then the one with the balloon lady are quite charming. There's an adorable innocence to them that's just a little heartwarming. And then there's the chapters that are a bit terrifying, like the one where Jane goes into the bowl's painting. She nearly gets stuck there because the little figures painted on the bowl don't want to release her and she had to be rescued by Mary Poppins.

I also didn't care much for the chapter where Mary Poppins and a character named Nellie Rubina create spring. I understand the concept without much difficulty, but Nellie Rubina is at least as disagreeable as Mary Poppins, if not more so, and I didn't like that she's supposed to be an ancestor of Noah which is why they do what they do. It was just too weird.

Just like the constellation circus was both weird and boring. Even if I'd been a child reading this chapter, I wouldn't have cared for it.

Robertson Ay's back story was possibly one of the best bits in the whole book except that it was a bit on the scary side, with a lot of people dying and getting their heads put on spikes around the castle walls. What is this . . . Game of Thrones?!

And of course, we have Mary herself. Dear Mary Poppins, a woman as disagreeable, contentious, and negative as ever. A woman who puffs herself like a little hen whenever someone dares suggest anything out of the ordinary has occurred. A woman who stops to stare at her own reflection for 5 minutes and then snaps at the children for lollygagging. She pretty much has all of the habits that one would never wish on their own children. So why, in heavens' name is she tasked with childcare?

True, she comes to Jane's rescue, and yes, she loves little Annabel, but her nasty attitude and outright lying about their adventures means she really isn't a good role model for anyone's child.

However, while I dislike Mary just as much as I did in the first book, there are I believe 8 books in the series, so maybe those later books will bring much-needed perspective on the woman. As to whether I'll bother reading those 6 books left in the series, your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Taking a Break with Kong: Skull Island (2017)

In a fit of the good old adventuresome spirit, I talked my sister into watching Kong: Skull Island with me today. Thank goodness it was still at the theater! I'd been trying to go for a viewing since it hit theaters last month, but life got seriously in the way.

Oh well, it turns out that today was a good day for a trip to the theater. And Kong: Skull Island was a PERFECT movie for my Jurassic Park-loving self.

The Good Bits

Tom Hiddleston - Does this really need explaining? I sure hope not. I even love listening to him swear in his British accent, and for the most part, he really didn't swear all that much. Just helped keep people alive, figured out that Kong might not be a mindless killing machine, and made googoo eyes at the cute Brie Larson. It's like the adorableness of Brendan Fraser making The Mummy movies just that much better!

NOT in the city - Does anybody else get tired of Kong being in the city, crunching buildings, climbing towers, and roaring? I was ready for something different, and this is indeed that something.

The era - Whereas the X-Men reboot focuses on the rather hideous side of the 1970s, Kong: Skull Island makes the era almost appealing. We've got the end of the Vietnam war and a tiny bit of 1970s fashion without being too overwhelming. We've also got a unique perspective of the 1940s added to the story too, including one of my sister's favorite songs from WWII, We'll Meet Again by Vera Lynn. The style they chose worked, as did the crossover of values and social mores.

Witty Dialogue - A lot of action movies try oh, so hard to be exciting and thrilling, but they forget to imbue their dialogue with a tinge of humor. That's why I'm looking at the new Mummy starring Tom Cruise with a rather cynical, bored eye. It's not funny, Kong: Skull Island, despite the people dying and such, has loads of witty dialogue that had the audience in stitches. Loved it.

Shorter time-frame - AMEN! I do not want to spend 2 1/2 hours in the theater. The only time I'm really willing to do that for a movie is if Marvel heads up the name. And even then, 2 1/2 hours is a bloody long time. So having an action film be neatly concise, fitting perfectly under the 2 hour mark, just made me grin.

The Meh Bits

Bad Military Men - This gets old. I'm tired of this stereotype being constantly in use in films, so even though I loved watching Samuel L. Jackson go bananas (pardon the pun), he was putting peoples' lives at risk just so he could win a "war" that wasn't actually a war. Why bother fighting an enormous ape that's just defending his territory? Just leave already!

And, wellllll, I'm thinking that's it for the meh section. At least for me. Kong: Skull Island was well the price of my admission and despite the creepiness of ENORMOUS critters since Kong is not the only behemoth in the film, my sister and I both loved it. I'd say that for me it earns its place alongside The Mummy and Jurassic Park franchises!