Review of Barriers Burned Away; remembering the1871 Chicago Fire

A visit to Chicago not long after the Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871–151 years ago today–touched the heart of the author, Edward Payson Roe, and inspired him to write this novel, published in 1872.

Diorama of 1871 Chicago Fire – Chicago History Museum, Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois

He seems to have asked himself:

How would people respond in a crisis that affected a community regardless of social rank, and how would the tragedy change them and their community, for better or worse?

…and…

How important are some of our typical pursuits—pleasure, popularity, recognition, wealth, and entertainment–compared to a day-by-day inner awareness of our value as a human being, our purpose on this earth, a sense of peace, and a realistic, solid basis of hope and security?

This is quite an extraordinary novel, and I LOVED IT. So much so that I now have this and several other E.P. Roe novels on my Kindle. (And I have given my used hardcover copy to a dear friend who loved the last 19th century novel I gave her!)

It is a detailed book about one of the things in our lives that we don’t necessarily focus on, but which is one of the most important: our spiritual life.

In this story a young man, Dennis, needs to leave his struggling family so he can make money to support them. He leaves his quiet rural area and moves to Chicago, one of the largest cities in the U.S. in 1871, when the story takes place.

Dennis and Christine work together at an art gallery, and have similar interests in art, including creating their own paintings. She and her father (the owner) are from a very wealthy European family, and look down on the newly hired young man with the worn-out clothes. Naturally Dennis is frustrated by that, but his value system isn’t based on popularity and people-pleasing, and he can still be relatively content at work while he earns enough to live on.

He has a heart of gold, and if he finds someone in his neighborhood or place of work that he can help, he pours his heart into it. So even in the unfriendly city he is never without genuine friends that support him. 

Perhaps this is the kind of art on their art gallery walls?
(Frederick Walker, The Old Farm Garden, 1871, public domain, picryl.com)

In time, Christine and the others at work are impressed by Dennis’s kindnesses, and the way Dennis respects himself. They notice he doesn’t compromise his values by mistreating them, regardless of how disrespectfully they treat him.

When Christine pretends to be falling in love with him in order to use him for her own purposes, Dennis calls her on it, scolding her for her rudeness and manipulation. It may be the first time in her life that she hears the truth about herself. She is further frustrated by her artistic limitations, seeming to be unable to paint an authentic expression of love on her canvas. She takes to heart Dennis’s words: “The stream cannot rise higher than its fountain.”

Dennis becomes seriously ill and is away from work for a while. During that time Christine realizes how much she cares for him, but her artistic and social ambitions take precedence over a relationship.

Then… the fire rages through Chicago with complete disregard to social status, providing a crucible for burning up the dross in many lives.

Chicago in Flames, by Currier and Ives, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Where to find the book

The fact that it is so prevalent online attests to its past and present popularity.

You can read it for free, or download it in various formats, at Gutenberg.org, By the Fireplace, and Free Pages. You can buy hardcover and softcover versions (including facsimile reprints) at the usual places, such as Amazon and AbeBooks, for very reasonable prices.

Here is a short blurb about the book on an excellent website about the Chicago Fire, which includes a sample chapter (caution: spoiler).

Next post…

In my next post I will share what I’ve found about the Chicago Fire, the extraordinary talents and interests of author E.P. Roe, and more!

Happy reading!

Gesta Romanorum: A unique glimpse into history

Gesta Romanorum is Latin for “Deeds of the Romans”, which makes it sound like this book is a narration of the early culture of Rome, its history and battles.

However, it is actually a Latin compilation of morality stories believed to be written approximately at the end of the 13th century.

There are 181 stories. I have read a number of the tales, which range from half a page to several pages long, and found them interesting and easy to read. The simple plots center around royalty, family, daring exploits, rescues, faith, good morals, courage, and loyalty.

The stories have a pattern: the tale number, title and text of the tale, followed by an explanation for the “beloved” reader of the story’s deeper meaning, from a spiritual perspective.

The book’s main claim to fame is as a source of later works by Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and others. It was apparently one of the most popular books of the time and some consider these to be some of the first short stories published.

An image from Gesta Romanorum – Donaueschingen 145, a manuscript from Upper Swabia in Germany from circa 1452.
A public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

It’s an interesting little book. My little green hardcover copy, which I found at a thrift store, was published in 1877. What fascinates me the most is how arduously these tales were originally recorded eight centuries ago, preserved, and are now readily available for anyone to read today.

…invented by monks as a fireside recreation and commonly applied in their discourses from the pulpit : whence the most celebrated of our own poets and others, from the earliest times, have extracted their plots

from the title page of Gesta Romanorum

“They” (the Monks) might be disposed occasionally to recreate their minds with subjects of a light and amusing nature; and what could be more innocent or delightful than the stories of the GESTA ROMANORUM?”

Douce’s Illustrations of Shakespeare

Example of one of the tales

A tremendous amount of research has been done regarding its origins. The first 68 pages of my copy consist of an 11-page Preface about the origins, translation, revision and printings of the book; the Introduction, including14 pages on the History of Romantic Fabling and 4 pages about the history of the stories in Gesta Romanorum; 30 pages of “Annexed Tales”, and finally, a 10-page table of contents (“Outlines of the Tales”). More notes are included after the tales (which appear to be Swan’s notes).

Illustration from Gesta Romanorum, Image 32v Gesta Romanorum – Donaueschingen. A public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

After Tale number CLXXXI (181) on page 349 is a final note–from the original, not from the editor:

Remarkable Histories, from the Gesta Romanorum, combined with numerous moral and mystical applications, treating of vices and virtues, Printed and diligently revised, at the expense of that provident and circumspect man, John Rynman, of Oringaw; at the workshop of Henry Gran, citizen of the imperial town of Hagenaw, concluded happily, in the year of our safety, one thousand five hundred and eight: March the 20th.

Page after the final tale, Tale CLXXXI

It’s fascinating to touch medieval history through this book! I highly recommend having a look at Gesta Romanorum.

The actual book and plenty of information are easily available online. Wikisource offers an excellent eBook of the 1871 version in two volumes, Volume 1 and Volume 2. Project Gutenberg offers what looks to be only a selection of stories from the original, called Tales from the Gesta Romanorum (which is completely different from my version, but looks interesting and easy to read); the 1845 version of this book for free, here. If you’re interested in getting a hardcopy, as an example, my 1877 hardcover copy sells for about $18.00 USD on Abe Books.

Love in a Little Town by J.E. Buckrow

It’s February, the month we celebrate love, and here is a most fitting book to celebrate.

Celia Bassingdale was about to take a long journey—the longest on earth—from the unreal to the real.

First line

Celia’s romantic interest in a young man (whom her grandfather was convinced was only after the fortune she would inherit when he died) prompted a bitter argument between her mother and grandfather. Attempting to right his wrongs, and help build some strong, admirable character in his granddaughter–even at the risk of losing the affection of this beloved girl forever–Grandfather decides to tear Celia away from her sweetheart. He sends her to live with his poor relatives, the Wallerby’s, who are hardworking, respectable people. Furious, she vows never to speak to her Grandfather again.

Celia struggles to meet the challenge of being forced to leave her comfy life to live with strangers. Yet she comes to admire the devotion this family and community have for each other, and their joy in spite of the hard sacrifices they must make. The women of the town’s wealthy society spread ugly, hurtful rumors about her, and twist her good intentions into appearing to be something shameful. Celia’s heart is captured by good-hearted Robert Wayne who works with Mr.Wallerby, and the feelings are mutual. But, although he loves her, he is not wealthy enough to marry anyone, especially a woman who comes from a wealthy family. In the midst of this time, Celia grieves severing her relationship with the one dearest to her, Grandfather.

The author has a deep understanding of human motivation, weakness and strength. Her story inspires readers to focus on what matters the most in life. This beautifully written book is full of warmth, humor, suspense, determination, struggles, honor, family bonds and the most genuine kind of love.

Such a unique cover!

The previous owner wrote their own response in pencil: “Nice quiet book.” That, plus the title of the novel, made me decide to buy it. And it was nice, and quiet, and did not disappoint! Thank you, fellow book lover, for the tip!

The previous owner added her own response, and some nice little poetry clippings

I raved about Love in a Little Town to a close friend, and she–shockingly–wanted to read it for her Christmas holiday book. Even though it is a plain-looking hardcover book written in 1911, and she doesn’t usually read novels like this, she couldn’t put it down. She read it in half the time I did, and loved it, and is ready for more vintage fiction!

Surprise! A clover tucked into one page. Is it from 1911 too???

I get the feeling this is not a very well-known book. Mine is the only review for it on Goodreads , and if you’re interested, you can find a few of my other reviews there. You can get the eBook for free at Google Books , and on Amazon ($41 and up).

Another book by the author

If you haven’t delved into the increasingly popular vintage fiction, this would be a great one to start with! Happy reading, friends!

When Choosing Fiction, Don’t Settle for Less

To borrow and repurpose a related quote:

The book you want exists. Don’t settle until you find it.

It’s fun to browse around the library’s “New and Notable” shelves. I read plenty of classic fiction so I appreciate it when others recommend new novels and authors. But I have noticed something in the past five years or so. Not all of them of course, but the newest books seem more often than not to be dark or depressing. 

What’s going on?

Over the past year I’ve tried to find out what is going on in the literary community to cause such a change. I haven’t found a solid answer yet, but I have some ideas.

First, entertainment–which includes literature–reflects society’s view of life and the world. I have noticed the trend toward dark, serious subjects in movies and TV shows as well. For someone like me growing up on an after-school fare of Sheriff Andy Taylor, Lucy, and Gilligan, it’s quite a switch to see innocent, unsophisticated sitcoms replaced by shows about deadly serious crimes and toxic relationships.

Different generations have different tastes in entertainment. These tastes are brought about by world events, education, morals and religious faith, the condition of the family, changes in the workplace and technology, and many other influences in life. I think the increasing speed of life alone causes boredom with the old, slower ways, which drives many to seek more stimulating, intense entertainment. 

I Wonder

And I wonder… What kinds of books are teachers choosing for their students, from Grade 1 to 12? Here is a great article by an upper school teacher, explaining why she thinks people of all ages ought read sad books, and another article by a student who has the opposite opinion.

I also wonder… What kinds of writing themes are writing teachers choosing for their students, in high school and post secondary schools? Is it a fad to write dark?

For a while, from curiosity, the need for novelty, and a bit of laziness, I SETTLED for new fiction that wasn’t really what I wanted to read. I trusted the recommendations, brought home many brand-new novels, devoted precious evening time, and waded right in. Surprisingly, many caused me to shudder and close the cover after reading a few chapters, and being completely blind-sided by the relaxed, casual mention of horrifically disturbing events, relayed as if a completely natural and common occurrence in one’s day, in the same banal tone as describing what you had for breakfast. And back they went to the library!

So these changing tastes in literature remain a bit of a mystery to me, requiring more research. But as I’ve searched for good quality, enriching fiction, I have found some sunshine! 

pxfuel.com

Finding enriching fiction

Like me, many people are online looking for happy books. In addition to my own posts recommending upbeat books, many others who seek out positive reading experiences have compiled their own lists. Here are the ones I’ve found the most promising.

Positively Good Reads
Just reading Marianne Goss’s elegant description of her search for “hopeful literature with relatable characters,” is a delight in itself. She created a website called Positively Good Reads in answer to the many people who asked for her help in finding “positive literary books” that people “would actually enjoy reading.” What a relief to find this long list, and to detect a camaraderie with the author as I noticed many on her list that I own, have reviewed on my blog, or have read. I first found Marianne Goss in this 2020 post “When you need upbeat fiction,” which I also highly recommend. 

Goodreads

As expected Goodreads has plenty of lists to help you find the kinds of books you want to read. Here is just one example: a list pointing you to feel-good books that are “Light, but not (too) dumb“.

Your local Library

When I search my library for lists of “books that are not depressing” I find 3 lists; “books that are upbeat” gives 5 lists, including this list of Up-Lit for Book Clubs; “books that are positive” gives about 10 lists for various audiences; “books with happy endings” gives 9 lists for all ages; “gentle reads” gives 5 lists. No doubt your local library has its own recommendations or lists.

Library Thing

This website is filled with all kinds of book information, including lists such as this one, “Curious as to an upbeat literature list“.

Short Fiction

If you prefer short fiction, check out American Literature’s webpage, “50 Great Feel-Good Stories” or Project Gutenberg’s book, “The Best American Humorous Short Stories“. NPR received 7,000 votes for the books, stories and poems that make their readers laugh, and they compiled 100 of them in this categorized list. Also, Reedsy has a webpage entitled “1700+ Short Happy Stories to Read

A good story doesn’t need a devastating twist. Nor does it have to plumb the darkest depths of the human conditions. These happy short stories might be exactly what you’re looking for in these uncertain times.

Reedsy

Any thoughts or recommendations?

If you are looking for less depressing fiction, or if you like dark fiction, or if you have a book or short story to recommend, or if you just want to say hi, please leave a comment.

And may whatever you’re reading bring you hope, peace and inspiration!

Review of To See the Moon Again

It’s February, when I usually pick my favorite romance novel of the past year to review.

But this time I’m deviating a bit from Valentine’s Day. This book is not a romance, or a story about a man and a woman. But is a story with a lot of heart, about a friendship between an aunt and her niece.

I love this book. It has strong characters with severe challenges, yet is full of warmth and a moving plot. And the connection with the author whom I so admire made it even more special.

Two women, one older, one younger, nudge each other to have healthier attitudes toward life and themselves. Julia, an introverted professor of fiction writing in South Carolina, is on a year sabbatical, planning a trip to New England to see famous authors’ homes. She definitely did not plan on her grand-niece Carmen disrupting her safe, orderly life. But Carmen is suffering deeply from losing her father, feeling alone, and carrying a secret.

The ending is unexpected and creative, and completely believable. This book was a treat, a typical Jamie Langston Turner book–I didn’t want it to end. Excellent writing, plot, character development, the book is current, relevant, gripping, realistic, satisfying and inspiring.

Of course, being a Jamie Langston Turner fan from wayyyyy back, this is par for the course. I have loved every moment of reading her books. Years ago, I gave away By the Light of a Thousand Stars, a favorite, to my best friend. When I later came across it at a thrift store, I bought it. When my daughter-in-law asked me what my favorite books were, I ended up giving it away again. I’m sure it will get back on my shelf somehow.

I am thankful that of the making of both friends and books, there is no end.

Sheila J Petre

I wondered if there were any of her books I hadn’t read yet. So I went to the author’s website (where I found the lovely quote above, and today found a humorous update by the author). I was surprised to find out that there were several that had eluded me, and was delighted at the prospect of reading more.

On the page that listed her works, I saw a little note saying that she still had several signed copies of To See the Moon Again, and if anyone wanted one they could send her a message. Yes, please! But I checked the date of the post and it was 2014. Well, there was little chance that there were any copies left, but I sent a message anyway.

The author immediately responded that she had one more, so it must have been meant for me! We sorted out how I could send her a cheque and she could mail me the book. What a privilege and a joy to have a personal connection with her! Corresponding with Jamie was as delightful as reading one of her books, full of warmth and friendship.

As we emailed back and forth, talking about how much it cost her to mail it at her local post office–and the exchange rate from U.S. dollars to Canadian–she decided that I had definitely sent her too much money. So the solution we arrived at was that if I was ever anywhere near where Jamie lived (or if she was near Calgary), she would treat me to coffee! (It hasn’t happened yet, but I still look forward to that!)

When I checked my local library, I saw that they had 2 of hers, Sometimes a Light Surprises and By the Light of a Thousand Stars. So I decided to recommend that they consider adding To See the Moon Again to their collection–and they did!!!

Let me encourage you, if you haven’t already discovered Jamie Langston Turner and her beautiful books, now is the time to do so! They were made “for such as time as this”.

Love and hugs, I hope you are well and safe, finding connections of all sorts to buoy you up, and realizing how much you are loved!

[Clipart courtesy of Clipart-Library.com]

Ready for a break from all the negativity? Check out these books

Life, the news, the media, and even books can get us down. But being selective about what we see, hear, and think about can put us in a better mental state.

Here is a selection of books I’ve read recently from various time periods and genres, non-fiction and fiction, ranging from suspenseful to educational to romantic to hilarious.

What they all have in common is EXCELLENT writing, and they are NOT depressing. Have a look, maybe you’ll find a new author or title!

When you look like your Passport Photo, it’s time to go Home by Erma Bombeck – a collection of humorous travel anecdotes. I found this the perfect book for bedtime reading!

The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People With Too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine – a welcome book, helping to understand a frustrating tendency that moi can relate to! (For fun, to see if you are a Renaissance soul, you can take the quiz here.)

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that can’t stop Talking by Susan Cain – very interesting and encouraging if you’re an introvert, with plenty of data from studies and statistics.

Carousel by Rosamunde Pilcher – a lovely, warm book, I couldn’t stand that it ended. A woman goes to help her aunt who broke her arm, and ends up becoming part of her aunt’s community. The neighbor’s little granddaughter connects them with a local artist who takes an interest in the newcomer.

Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray – owners of flower shops take a liking to each other, but their families’ vicious rivalries go back many generations. Warm, funny, sweet, and an unexpected ending.

My One and Only by Kristan Higgins – fantastic! This was recommended by a volunteer at a book sale when I told her I was looking for a well-written romantic comedy. A woman’s step sister marries her ex-husband’s brother, and the woman and her ex-husband have no choice but to go on a road trip from New York to Montana and back.

Marcia Schuyler by Grace Livingston Hill – an original plot and conflicts, expert revelation of deep emotions, and the vivid contrast between characters made it suspenseful and satisfying. You can read or download this book here for free.

Many Sparrows by Lori Benton, Christy Award-winning author – in this Christian historical novel set in 1774, an American Indian woman and a woman settler bring about cultural changes as they struggle over the boy they both consider their son.

Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy – four tourists vacation in the tiny seaside town of Aghia Anna, Greece, and develop friendships among themselves and the locals. Each has something they are grappling with, or running away from, in their lives. After several weeks in the warm, quiet, simple, technology-free environment, they have made some decisions and found peace. A lovely setting and story; gentle thoughts and conversations, reconciliations, revelations, new strength and hope.

The Best short stories of O. Henry – O. Henry is William Sydney Porter, an amazingly prolific writer of gentle stories with brilliant scenarios. When he died in 1910 he left over 600 complete stories behind—can you imagine? My favorites were: A Retrieved Reformation, A Municipal report, The Gift of the Magi, Mammon and the Archer, The Cop and the Anthem, and The Love-Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein. Thanks to the American Literature website, these stories and many more are here , if you’d like to read them!

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – I’d been meaning to read this for a long time. What finally brought it about is that I found the DVD of the movie with Spencer Tracy, but didn’t want to watch it before reading the novel. I read this little book about Santiago (the old man, the fisherman) in about 3 hours. What a man, such courage and determination; such exhaustion! I hope you’ll find time this year to treat yourself to the unique experience of reading this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. It is a classic, and available to read for free online.

Now we are Six by A.A. Milne – such sweet, quiet poetry with fun words and rhythm. My favorites are “The old Sailor” who can’t decide what to do first, and “Forgiven” in which the nanny accidentally lets the beetle out of the matchbox. You can read or download this book for free here.

To See the Moon Again by Jamie Langston Turner – A literary novel, two women, one older, one younger, nudge each other to have healthier attitudes toward life and themselves. Excellent writing, plot, character development, the book is current, relevant, gripping, realistic, satisfying and inspiring. I actually contacted the author about this book and she sent a signed copy to me!

Show me God by Fred Hereen – the author interviews many well-known scientists who, through the latest scientific tools and knowledge, find it hard not to believe in creation. It’s fascinating how much the studies of astronomy and astrophysics have developed over the recent years, to the point of being able to measure or closely estimate the realities of our universe.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer – a humorous Regency romance. I got a kick out of how the very arrogant, take-charge hero broke character and actually acquiesced to the pleadings of Frederica’s very young brothers, taking them on “field trips” regarding mechanical engineering & horse handling, and assisted them with the many crises their oversized sheepdog created. The ending was a twist for this type of novel.

A Grain of Sand: Nature’s Secret Wonder by Gary Greenberg – gorgeous photos and studies of sand from various parts of the world using 3D microphotography, showing tiny bits of sea urchins, shells, coral, within the sand grains. Amazing.

A Bride in the Bargain by Deanne Gist – an excellent Christian historical novel. Anna in Massachusetts signs a contract to be a cook for a logging company in Washington state. When she arrives she finds out her boss, Joe, had signed a contract for her to be his wife (so he wouldn’t lose his property and logging business). Enjoyed everything about it: plot, characters, and history.

Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson – what fun! These are a collection of columns he wrote for a magazine about the American way of life, humorously self-effacing, often criticizing, but in a way that is usually good-hearted and hilarious. I seriously laughed ’til I cried.

Romance Rustlers and Thunderbird Thieves: a Ruby Taylor Mystery by Sharon Dunn – an amusing page-turner. Ruby is a self-appointed investigator with a dry, deadpan sense of humor (I saw and heard the actress Janeane Garofalo as I was reading). She has no interest in her mother’s new-found Christianity, and nurses wounds from a childhood and youth ruined by her criminal parents and foster homes. Ruby gets thrown into a mess of an adventure, including a kidnapping, a gorgeous cop, and a harrowing event with a helicopter.

The Forever Feast by Dr. Paul Brand – the author contributed extensively to the medical fields of hand surgery and hand therapy for leprosy patients. Interesting reading about his intricate knowledge of the human body, so much more miraculous than we’ve ever dreamed. You can read this online here.

Howards End by E.M. Forster – the classic novel about a middle-class intellectual, artistic family connecting with a staid family of wealth who own a rural home called Howards End. Aside from more philosophizing than I care for, I especially loved the story of how two patient, quiet characters–each from opposite “sides” of the family–were able to redeem a seemingly hopeless legacy of embattled, incompatible and discordant relationships.

My Lady Quixote by Phyllis Ann Karr – twists and turns and comedy. Aunt Cassandra–in an effort to help her niece Deirdre make a “match” with Rev. George Oakton, and avoid the arranged marriage with a rake–decides that the solution is to have Deirdre abducted. The idea is that when Sir Roderick, Auntie’s friend who is secretly a highwayman, abducts young Deirdre, Rev. Oakton will rescue her, realize he loves her, and marry her before the rake can interfere. But alas, most of her strategies fail thoroughly, catastrophically and hilariously.

Fancy Pants by Cathy Marie Hake. Set in 1890 New York, Lady Sydney Hathwell of England is pledged to the overly-chauvinistic (even for that time) Rexall Hume. She escapes life with him by dressing up as a man and heading west to stay with Uncle Fuller, who she led to believe is his “nephew”. Original believable plotline, and wholesome!

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson – a thrilling adventure set in medieval England with young Richard Shelton, fellow orphan Joanna Sedley, and a mysterious outlaw/ally identified by his black arrows. I am stunned that I couldn’t put this book down, since most of it consisted of one escapade after another of the inexperienced hero and his ragged band fighting, fleeing or stalking myriads of others (in a little too much gory detail for me!). But throughout the tale, he never stops his quest of freeing his one true love, who is the complete opposite of the helpless female so common in novels written in 1883. He is such a decent, incredibly courageous, intelligent young man, and humble, making reparation as best he can when he makes mistakes that bring harm to others. So suspenseful. Happy ending.

So there you go. I hope you find some reading materials–here, or elsewhere–that genuinely elevate your mind and spirit.

If you particularly enjoyed reading one of these I hope you’ll share the experience with us in the comments!

Review of The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin

“The book, the dear, enlivening, enchanting, stimulating, informing, uplifting book, is the most faithful of all allies, and, after human friendship, the chief solace as well as the most inspiring influence in human life.”

Kate Douglas Wiggin

What a dear book this is! The Birds’ Christmas Carol is about a family who stays cheerful, strong, industrious and generous, even amid sad circumstances that require constant sacrifice.

One reason I picked this up was because I was familiar with the author, who is best known for her book Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

Another reason was because I thought this book had to do with feathered friends! I imagined a delightful story about birds singing in snow-covered pines during the holiday season. But actually it is about a girl named Carol born on Christmas Day into a family with the last name of Bird.

From childhood, little Carol had a sparkling personality, always finding ways to share whatever she had, help other people, compliment them and encourage them. When her brother wondered aloud why she wouldn’t take a bite of food until she’d given some of it away, their mother said, “She is a little Christmas child, and so she has a tiny share of the blessedest birthday the world ever saw!”

As she’d grown older, Carol had “wished everybody a Merry Christmas before it was light in the morning, and lent everyone her new toys before noon.”

She had never been physically strong, and by age 10 she was a helpless invalid, yet that didn’t dampen her spirits. Since she had to spend all of her time in her room, her father renovated it so that it was a conservatory full of windows.

She had the company of birds in cages, and hundreds of books which Carol turned into her own circulating library. Every Saturday she loaned ten books to the children’s hospital, and the patients who read her books would write letters to her to thank her.

In warm-weather Carol had a “window school” where she read to the poor neighbors next door, the Ruggles. She was so contented she called herself a “Bird of Paradise”.

Carol wrote a magazine article about living in her own room for three years, and what she did to amuse herself. With the money she earned from the article, she decided to treat the nine Ruggles children to something they had never before experienced: a grand Christmas dinner—in her own room! She paid for the food and decorations, a Christmas tree and presents.

According to my book, The Birds’ Christmas Carol was first published in 1895. However, on further research, I discovered that it was originally published privately in 1886 by the American author, and copyright in 1888 by Houghton, Mifflin Company, U.S.

My copy of this little 72-page book was published by A. & C. Black Ltd., London, in 1929, and illustrated by Francis E. Hiley, an extremely prolific and popular self-taught artist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

When I read the inscription, I thought, “Auntie Kate Douglas Wiggin? Did the author give the copy I am holding in my hand to her nieces?” But that isn’t possible, as the author had been born in 1856 and died in 1923.

According to her autobiography, Wiggin described her childhood as happy. But at the age of 9, her country grieved over the death of Abraham Lincoln. She described this event as her “first conscious recognition of the greatness of individual character.” It no doubt helped her form fictional children and adults in her books who developed great character struggling with tragedies.

Another influence was undoubtedly the books she read. Her favorite author was Charles Dickens, and she also read Harper’s Magazine and Littell’s Living Age, the Bible, and the most popular great novels of the era.

She dedicated this book “To all lovers of little children”, which clearly included the author. In 1878 at the age of 22—before marrying Samuel Wiggin—Kate Douglas Smith headed the Silver Street Kindergarten in San Francisco—the first free kindergarten on the West Coast of the United States. She is also credited with leading the kindergarten education movement in the United States. In fact, she wrote this little book and another, The Story of Patsy, to help fund the California Kindergarten Training School, which she helped establish.

Translated into several other languages, The Birds’ Christmas Carol sold over a million copies and remains in print. This little book was so successful, it allowed Kate Wiggin to become a full-time author and to travel extensively in Europe.

I found it interesting when I read references to the toys of that era: “So Donald took his velocipede and went out to ride up and down the stone pavement, and notch the shins of innocent children as they passed by, while Paul spun his musical top on the front steps.” A velocipede is one of the earliest forms of bicycles for children and adults—without pedals—and the musical top is a classic toy available even today.

The Birds’ Christmas Carol is the most famous of all American Christmas stories; here, if anywhere in the collection, we have Victorian tearfulness; but age has its privileges, and Americans have wept too often over this tale to decline to weep once again.”

editor Edward Wagenknecht in The Fireside Book of Christmas Stories

You can read this illustrated book online for free at Gutenberg.org.

I was delighted to discover many more delightful works by this author. One short piece, written about a surprise meeting at the age of 6 with her beloved Charles Dickens, is a must-read, here.

There are 48 of her books and short stories at Gutenberg.org, available in many formats, including the work that sold more copies than any other book (other than Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Birds’ Christmas Carol), Mother Carey’s Chickens.

Also at Gutenberg.org are two more Christmas stories by Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin: The Romance of a Christmas Card and The Old Peabody Pew.

Enjoy!

And Happy New Year!

Image courtesy of Susan Cipriano susan-lu4esm at Pixabay

Hedgerow Tales, Mrs. Gatty’s Parables of Nature

Of all the revived, republished classic books available, the 4 Hedgerow Tales are my favorites.

These were ahead of their time, “retold” back in the 1980s, forerunners of the latest trend. The illustrations by Sandra Fernandez are exquisite and appear on almost every page. (Note that these Hedgerow Tales are not related to Enid Blyton’s Hedgerow Tales.)

From the cover, they appear to be children’s picture books, which usually have few words. But these are fairly lengthy stories.

And as the author was schooled in the early 1800s when students were required to demonstrate an excellent vocabulary and use of language, these have more depth in the plot and a richer language than a typical picture book.  In fact, you’d probably need to read it aloud to children under 8.

The story of Charlotte the Caterpillar is about hope, faith and eternal life. Just as Charlotte learns faith from the lark’s wise words, to have faith is to be sure of things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.

The theme of Benjamin Bee is contentment, and a willingness to use the particular gifts God has given us so that the whole community (in this case, the hive) works together.

The story of Robin Redbreast is about God’s provision for those who trust him, even in difficult times.

The theme of Jeremy Cricket is “the heart’s true home–heaven. “This world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

In the Hedgerow Tales, Pat Wynnejones retells 4 of the 29 stories from the 1855 book by Margaret Gatty, Parables of Nature.

Mrs. Gatty begins her preface to her collection of stories, Parables from Nature, with a quote from Sir Thomas Browne from his Religio Medici:

There are two books from whence I collect my divinity; besides that written one of God, another of his servant, Nature–that universal and public manuscript that lies expanded unto the eyes of all: those that never saw Him in the one have discovered Him in the other… Those strange and mystical transmigrations that I have observed in silkworms turned my philosophy into divinity. There is in these works of Nature, which seem to puzzle reason, something divine…

Mrs. Gatty was also a marine biologist.

She was well known among professional marine biologists and had several species named after her! The book she wrote in the mid-1850s, British Seaweeds, was of such high quality it was still being used in the 1950’s.

One account of her life says, “To be treated as an equal by men of science gave her a pleasure as great as any of her achievements in the literary world.” It also tells how a memorial tablet in Ecclesfield Church was raised by a public subscription by more than a thousand children ‘as a token of love and gratitude for the many books she wrote for them.’

Publishing timeline of Margaret Gatty’s books

Here is an interesting graphic from WorldCat of her publishing timeline. I love seeing how interest in her books has increased since the turn of the (21st) century!

An interesting side note is that Margaret Gatty’s daughter, Juliana Ewing, was also an accomplished writer, and lived for a time in Canada. Rudyard Kipling mentioned Juliana in his autobiography, and Henry James called her book Jackanapes “a genuine little masterpiece, a wonderful little mixture of nature and art.”

I think it’s delightful that so many homeschooling families use the classics as part of their teaching materials. AmblesideOnline, a free homeschool curriculum, includes a rephrased version of Parables of Nature here.

You can read the 450-word Parables of Nature book for free!

You can buy the four individual Hedgerow Tales books from Better World Books. I like this online bookstore because they have great service and low prices (with no shipping cost–including international shipping!). I’m partial to them because of their values and impact .”Every time you purchase a book from BetterWorldBooks.com, we donate a book to someone in need.”

You can read Parables of Nature online here , download it free to read in various formats at Internet Archive, and download the audio book at LibriVox .

Treat yourself and your family to feel-good, inspirational stories and visual feast of realistic, vibrant art!

I’d love to hear if you’ve read these, or anything like them–drop me a note below!   {{{HUGS}}}

Fun and Frolic: Stories for the Young from the 1800s

Such a pleasant peek into the

simple family life of the late 1800’s

Ah, the simple innocence of that era. It makes one want to time-travel there for a day, or a year! Obviously, not everyone in 1888 had the leisure shown in this book, there were certainly just as many who had hard and meager lives. But no doubt a book like this brought smiles to many.

This sweet picture book of 45 pages has a short story or vignette that fits on one page, and an illustration in color or black and white to go with it. In tiny writing on the bottom left corner of the cover it says, “Copyright 1888 by J.L. Blamire.”

 

On the front cover, children are spending time indoors with an unhurried mother, playing with wooden animals and soldiers. It’s interesting to me that children throughout history have enjoyed playing with toy animals, and that animals in general have drawn the attention and affection of children.

I have also seen toys, and toys in books, from various periods in history that include soldiers and equipment for battles. Does that mean that wars are constantly raging throughout history, and children are aware of them because their fathers are away fighting? Or perhaps many of the famous men and women in countries all over the world have been war heroes, and the children grow up wanting also to be heroes?

The inside cover has the neatly hand-written name of the book’s owner, whose last name appears to be Ratledge. But with a little imagination it could instead be Routledge, to match the name of the publisher…a gift from the publisher, Uncle Routledge?

The stories in the book are not earth-shattering or dramatic. They are everyday happenings. But they are related here as the little joys that are present in each day, if we pay attention to them.

The first story pays homage to the world’s grandmothers, which I appreciate, being a grandma of 14 months. It tells of a grandson who learned to whistle before his first birthday, from hearing the other boys in the neighborhood whistling as he was wheeled around in his carriage.

The next story is in noticeably larger type, and includes dashes in the words to divide the syllables for the benefit of young readers.

These little stories told in first person talk of domestic life and the regular events of mothers and their children, who dearly love their parents, siblings and grandparents.

Fun and Frolic Stories includes poetry and information about nature and animals.

The poem “Blowing Bubbles” is surprisingly philosophical, likening the bubbles to our dreams.  It asks a question of the adult reading the book:

Will it be always so–are we the same?

We blow our bubbles too, changed but in name.

We have fond hopes, that expand and look bright;

We watch our fancies with eager strained sight.

Tucked between the back page and the back cover is a drawing of a butterfly on 5″ x 7″ lined paper, likely inspired by the “Butterflies” poem. I doubt that this is was drawn by the book’s first owner in the late 1800s, or even from the early 1900s. I suspect it was drawn on a lined pad for letter writing from the 1950s or later.

 

The back cover shows another scene of mother relaxing with her child outside on a grassy slope. In the scene are baby birds nesting in a woman’s bonnet, looking for worms from their busy mother.

There are remnants of some dried blue flowers tucked into the pages. I always love little surprises like that!

Various artists contributed their talents to the book, but at that time they apparently didn’t include the names of the illustrators, although some of the drawings include signatures of initials or names in the corners.

I couldn’t find another copy of this book anywhere online, but there are many books from the late 1800s published by George Routledge & Sons, such as Little Snowdrop’s Picture Book, published in 1879, available as a Kindle book. J.L. Blamire appears to be the manager of a New York Routledge & Sons bookseller and possibly an author, and/or editor.

I hope you enjoyed “reading” this with me. What fun to have such a pleasant and colorful history lesson couched in with a lovely piece of literature!

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

What a joy to know that this 1885 book is still current,

and still bringing the same wonder and delight to new generations of children–and adults!

                       Illustration for the poem “The Lamplighter”

 

A Child’s Garden of Verses is my VERY favorite children’s book

…as evidenced by the fact that I have 3 versions of it. It is the author’s imagination and remembrance of his own childhood that I love the most.  One of the introductions to his books says that Stevenson “writes as a child, rather than about children”. He was “able to enter into the heart of a boy” –and, I might add, also into the heart of this tomboy!

Robert Louis Stevenson grew up in Scotland. He wrote many other works besides poetry, including short stories, travel writings, plays and novels. Two of his best known novels are Treasure Island, a book the author wrote to keep his stepson amused during a very inclement summer; and Kidnapped, inspired by real events in Scottish history. It is said that Stevenson has never been out of fashion, and that there was an increased interest in him and his works in the 1980s.

The introductions in two of these versions are interesting, and endearing, and tell more about the author…

 

 

In elementary school, I learned several of the poems in this book, and I just realized that I can still recite one from memory. Some I memorized because they were an assignment from my teacher (remember memorizing poems and reciting them at an assembly?), others I probably remembered because the rhythm and rhyme held me spell bound and I couldn’t stop reading them over and over.

 

This first version is near and dear to my heart. It was the first book I bought, and may have been the first thing I ever bought with my own money.

We had a carnival at our elementary school and this was for sale for 75 cents. It never occurred to me before today, but…why would they have sold it? How could my school library have wanted to part with it? I hope it was because they were getting a new copy.

The inscription on this is my mom’s, recording the special event, “School carnival March 5, 1965.” When she wrote that, could she have imagined I’d be sharing it in the new millenium, in cyberspace for all the world to see?

 

 

“The Swing” and “Happy Thought” are my two favorites.

This next version I found about 5 years ago at a used book store in Denver, Colorado, while visiting my family. It is dated 1902 and has, of course, illustrations from that era which are quite different, very antique-looking.

 

I love that each of my copies has an inscription in them for the child receiving it! And I love knowing that it is still on the shelves of bookstores and libraries for more children to enjoy, and to receive as a gift.

 

 

I think “The Swing” is my favorite poem because I can feel the wind, the sunshine, and the FREEDOM…

 

This older version has a word list at the end.  Just look at all those “juicy” words (as we call them at my school)!!!

 

The last version I bought was at a thrift store in Calgary. It is the newest one I have.

I thumbed through it for a long time, but put it back on the shelf because I already had two of them at home. Then I changed my mind. I decided that this one’s illustrations were a glorious feast for the eyes on every page. No doubt it cost me just a little more than a current cup of coffee, and for the joy that it brings my heart it’s so worth it.

 

Again, here is my favorite poem “The Swing” in this version. Illustrations can sure make a book!  Look at the girl’s hair, and her shoe–brilliant!

 

I can hardly believe it took me so long to post about this book! But in my mind, it wasn’t a vintage book to be reviewed. It was one of my most treasured possessions.

 

 

It’s so sweet how Robert Louis Stevenson devoted many pages of this book–apparently written when he was in his mid-30s–to his beloved family, nanny and friends.

This lovely book is EVERYWHERE — as it should be!

May many more generations have the opportunity

to lose themselves in A Child’s Garden of Verses,

its fun, delight, wonder, imagery, peace… and its beauty.