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}}}

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.

Fellow vintage book readers

I just wanted to share some of my favorite websites for vintage books and reviews for all of you fellow vintage book afficionados!

Leaves and Pages

“Bibliovore. Botanist. Gardener. Armchair Traveller and Vintage Book Explorer”  And I would add: “Voracious Reader”!

A feast! On this blog I find excellent reviews of books published in every year from 1900 to present, and several amazing indexes on her website pages.

https://leavesandpages.com/2013/04/23/reviews-sylvester-or-the-wicked-uncle-the-grand-sophy-by-georgette-heyer/

https://leavesandpages.com/book-reviews-index/

https://leavesandpages.com/book-reviews-by-publishing-date/

Figments and Frames

I’ve been enjoying following this blog for quite a while.  The author of this blog is a writer based in Maine and New Jersey, and this is where she documents her growing antique book collection. She also covers a range of similar subjects, including life in frontier America, Native American interactions, early American and indigenous folklore, and all sorts of literature on food, from hunting and gathering to farming innovations and cookbooks. She says she can’t resist buying old illustrated children’s books and literary classics when she can find them. I can relate!

https://figmentsandframes.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/modern-tales-animal-stories/

Books Around the Table

This is my newest discovery, I’m just starting to mine the blog posts.

https://booksaroundthetable.wordpress.com/category/vintage-childrens-book-illustrations/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-3

The Art of Children’s Picture Books

This blog is archived and no longer active, but it is full of eye candy! Have a glance at these sweet images…

http://theartofchildrenspicturebooks.blogspot.com/2015/04/

And just for fun, check out this Reader’s Digest article, which reports that a first edition of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is worth $180,159!

https://www.rd.com/culture/rare-books-worth-a-fortune/

 

Such great stuff from awesome bloggers!

Review of Back to Arcady by Frank Waller Allen

Thirty years ago it was said of me that I was as gallant a beau as ever bowed over a fair lady’s hand… I am more years past fifty than I like to acknowledge, and now a girl of twenty is coming to upset the habits and routine of a lifetime.

One of my treasures from this spring’s used book sales is a sentimental romance written in 1905, full of detailed background borders on every page.

As is typical of novels written at the turn of the century, the language is exquisite, the tone is thoughtful, and the plot gentle, original and full of genuine emotion. I read it in two sittings.

The dedication sets the author’s tone…

The story takes place in a small village in Kentucky. It begins with the narrator anticipating a visit from the daughter of his one true love, Drucilla.

“I knew her mother in the long ago. She herself was but twenty when last I saw her, and yet today hers is the only face that remains clear in my memory… Shortly after I saw Drucilla for the last time, she married William Dudley, the companion of my youth and friend of my  manhood. …Then when little Marcia Dudley–My Lady o’ Roses–was born, the mother died…”

“It is in the silence that follows the storm,” says the proverb, “and not the silence before it, that we should search for the budding flower.”

Many years later when she was a young lady, Marcia’s father, dying, sent a letter begging him to take his only child and guard her as his own. Marcia travels across the ocean to America. At first sight of her, the narrator (who is never named), is shocked to see what appears to be his long lost love, so similar is Marcia’s face to her mother’s. He introduces Marcia to his neighbor Louis and others in the nearby village, and she settles in.

In time, Louis tells them both how he had previously traveled to France, where he had been bewitched by a woman playing a sweet tune on a violin. They’d fallen in love, but they couldn’t be together. The woman vowed that she could never play her violin again until she reunited with her love, and he’d returned to Kentucky broken-hearted.

Marcia eventually reveals that she was the one Louis had loved in Paris, but she had not known where he’d gone when he left her. Now they are reunited, and the narrator muses,

“Then, after a while, there came to me from without the night, like unto the perfume of roses, the soft, warm tones of a lover’s violin bearing the message with which, years and years ago in a garden in Picardy, Margot o’ the Crimson Lips gave the heart of her to the Dreammaker.”

Here was a lovely discovery about halfway through…

It was not easy to find information about the author. Frank Waller Allen was an American author born in 1878 in Kentucky, United States. He was educated at Transylvania University, Kentucky, 1902, and worked as a journalist, minister, professor and lecturer.

Among the author’s other books are My Ships Aground (1900); The Golden Road (1910); The Lovers of Skye (1913); The Brothers of Bagdad (1913); Painted Windows (1918); The Great Quest (1918); My One Hundred Best Novels (1919); Wings of Beauty (1929); and Creative Living (1930).

You can read Back to Arcady online at Archive.org, or Forgotten Books, or buy it from Amazon, Abe books, eBay and other online book sellers.

Titus: A Comrade of the Cross – a classic novel for Easter

In 1894, a publisher held a writing competition to obtain the best manuscript that would inspire a child’s Christian faith. Florence Kingsley submitted her manuscript for Titus: A Comrade of the Cross and won the $1,000 award. In six weeks, 200,000 copies had been printed to meet demand.

The story is about a young boy named Titus, the son of a downtrodden mother and a poor, violent fisherman. His brother Stephen is remarkably kind, considering the fact that he was crippled from a beating by their father. Titus is cynical of what he hears about Jesus, and warns Stephen against any hope of healing.

This historical novel takes place at the time of the first Easter.

“Titus was listening with all his ears, but he said nothing, for he hoped that the man would speak further…. He could have slipped away in the dark easily enough, and was half-minded to do so.

Then he reflected that he might learn something more of his mysterious birth and parentage, if he stayed; besides, he had a strong curiosity to see the much-talked-of Barabbas; and underneath all, was an unconfessed desire to share in the exciting events which were soon to follow.”

 

Over thirty years ago, I was given a copy of this hardcover novel,. The cover was ragged, and as I skimmed the text I could tell that the language was ancient and confusing. It sat on my shelf for a long time because I had no interest in reading it, but I kept it out of affection for the person who gave it to me.

Finally, years later, I picked it up and started reading it, and couldn’t put it down. The language wasn’t a problem once I got used to it, and even though halfway through the book I found that a whole chunk of pages was missing, the suspenseful plot and true-to-life characters still mesmerized me.

I can honestly say that my faith grew tremendously from reading–and having “lived”–this story.

I was still reading it when my first son was born, and we gave him a middle name that was not the name of a relative, but of a character that touched me deeply in Titus: A Comrade of the Cross. 

 

Because Titus: Comrade of the Cross is so well-known and well-loved, this book is readily available to read online or by download, at such sites at archive.org and google books. Free audio of the book is offered at LibriVox. Hardcover copies are also easily available at various online bookstores, including Chapters-Indigo. Lamplighter.net features a great video blurb about it, and Bookworm Blessings has an excellent review and summary.

Although it was originally written for children and youth, I recommend this book for any age. Its longevity attests to its quality! The author wrote a total of 3 books in this “Comrades of the Cross” series, including Stephen: A Soldier of the Cross and The Cross Triumphant, as well as many other books.

Are you familiar with Florence M. Kingsley? Have you read any of her other books? Let me know if you have any favorites you’d like to recommend.  You can leave me a comment below. I always love hearing from you!

And I wish you a Happy Easter!

Lonely Lily: a vintage children’s book by Mary L. Code

Lonely Lily or The Shepherd’s Call, a tiny thin book published in the U.K. in 1893, gently tells a sweet but powerful story of faith.  It is written for children, but nevertheless fascinated me with its suspenseful telling of the inner journey of hearts, from despair to comfort.

I am struck by how much more serious children’s lives were when this book was written, and how mature the themes in children’s books were, compared to today. It is heart-warming to see the traits of diligence, patience, duty and faith demonstrated in this story.

The beautifully designed front cover of Lonely Lily gives the image of a girl pondering, as she stares out the window at the moon and stars

 

The story

Grandmother Parfitt, an “old, silent woman” lives a reclusive life in an attic apartment with her granddaughter Lily, “a fair, pale flower, pale from the atmosphere of smoke and heaviness” in their city.

Life had dealt Grandmother much bitterness and regret through the deaths of her husband and children, neglect from those from whom she expected kindness, and the theft of her treasures. She has drawn away from others and wants Lily to do the same.

Lily loves to hear about her grandmother’s happy days living in the beautiful country of Switzerland, and one day wonders if heaven is like the countries where she’d been. Grandmother tells her she shouldn’t worry about such things at her young age and senses that Lily is lonely.

Soon Lily is allowed to spend time with Rose, a girl who lives in the same building, and through her family starts to get some answers to her questions about faith. Yet “the child felt alone and ‘outside’; and still she did not see the hand that would guide her [to heaven], nor hear the voice that was saying ‘Come unto me’.”

It wasn’t until Lily was invited to Annie Spencer’s to hear weekly Bible lessons that Lily finally understood God’s kind invitation. Annie, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is afflicted with a spine condition that causes her constant pain, yet she welcomes a group of girls to visit every Saturday. After her lesson, she senses that Lily has questions and takes her aside for a quiet talk. Then Lily understands that God forgives, and promises not to send anyone away who comes to Him. Finally, she loves Him for sending Jesus to die for her sins, and is comforted. Lily is no longer lonely.

After a torrential rain, Lily’s granny returns from work cold and drenched, and becomes seriously ill. Lily reads to her from her new Bible, which brings hope to Granny for her feelings of regret. She feels sorry for her hard heart and how she had done cruel wrongs in her life. Grandmother realizes that God can love and forgive even her, knows Jesus is her Savior, and forgives those who had done her wrong. After granny’s peaceful passing, Lily is taken in by Rose’s loving family.

About the book

I must admit that it was a sad book, even though good things happened at the end. Quite a serious book, especially for children, it is nevertheless a beautiful one.

My edition, published in 1893, is called the New Edition. The original was apparently published in the 1860’s.  My copy has an interesting inscription: “To Lillian From Rudi”. Did Rudi give this to Lillian because her name was similar to Lily? No inscription date is written, which is unusual.

Judging from all of my online searches, this seems to be a rare book and relatively unknown author. I only found one copy of it at AbeBooks that seems to be an authentic copy of the original printed book.

I found only one of the author’s books, Left at Home , on Gutenberg.com. The OCAC/WorldCat lists several copies of all of her books in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

I found no information on the author, which is surprising because my copy lists four other books she had written.

 

Do you have any similar gems to share?

Here are three of my previous posts about other vintage children’s books if you’d like to check them out:

Sam’s Mission , by Beatrice Marshall, published 1892

The Little Hunchback Zia , by Frances Hodgson Burnett (the author of the well-known The Secret Garden and A Little Princess), published 1915

Junior Instructor Encyclopedia , first published 1916

 

Faulkner’s Favorite – Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

I regularly recommend this novel as one of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the pleasure of this story!

Actually, the full title of the novel is El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Low-Born Noble Don Quixote of La Mancha). And, apparently, this was William Faulkner’s favorite book; he read it once a year, and Don Quixote was his favorite character.

I didn’t know all this, however, when I sat down unenthusiastically to read it. Because the description made it seem so dry, irrelevant and archaic, I had to “make” myself read Don Quixote, because I wanted to read more of the classics of English literature, and this one makes it to the top of many lists.

Don Quixote did not start out with a bang, as many novels do today. In fact, I felt that throughout the book there was no clear main plot or building suspense. Rather, there were little vignettes of humorous adventures as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza travel, believing they are knights, trying each others’ patience, and trying the patience of those they meet, giving and receiving blows in some cases!

Once I got used to the pace of the story, I sat back and enjoyed every minute of it. What is so endearing is how their ridiculous antics are taken very seriously, and our pair are given respect and honor, even by the royal family who ultimately has the power to bring them success or leave them a failure. I found myself rooting for them, hoping beyond hope for their success, although their quest seemed destined for defeat. By the end, I was sad to leave these two “companions” of mine, Don Quixote, knight errant, and Sancho Pansa, most loyal friend, for whom I’d grown so much affection!

Don Quixote is one of the books you can find in most any library or bookseller, and I hope you give it a try!

Would some of my previous reviews of classic novels interest you?  Here are The Bridge of San Luis Rey, My Antonia, The Inheritance and Pride and Prejudice.  And here are more books to entice you in my post last month. I trust one of these will catch your eye!

Happy summer reading!

 

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: “Don Quixote and Sancho Panza” by Jules David]

 

Summer Reads–Don’t Miss the Greatest Books

If you’re looking for some summer reads, may I recommend this list?

The Greatest Books

If you haven’t already discovered some of these, you don’t want to miss out on some excellent literature.

Many years ago I found a similar list. With a goal of reading one or two from the list each year, I started with some books that I thought I could stomach: romances by Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte, My Antonia by Willa Cather, The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (only because it was very thin).

All of them were fascinating. Who knew?

Then I got brave and read some that looked endlessly boring and painfully long–The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes–only to be pleasantly surprised at how easy they were to read and how hard to put down (Don Quixote made me laugh out loud!).

It gave me a feeling of satisfaction to check them off the list one-by-one. I also noticed that a sense of camaraderie with other readers of classics as I started to understand cultural references to these stories.

Soon I discovered an online classic book club through my public library. One of them sent the first three chapters of a classic novel by email at the beginning of each month. That was do-able, and I found more authors I liked.

That was the beginning.

These led me to lesser-known old books, and the best books I’ve ever read (hence, my posts!). This is how I began collecting old books at book sales, and my experience has shown that I can trust most books written more than fifty years ago to be a quality read.

I no longer carry that list in my purse because my “list” is now on my shelves, each awaiting its turn–as time allows!

And here is a list for classic children’s books.

What are your favorites on the list? Or if you aren’t yet into the classics, how about taking the challenge?  One or two from the list each year?

Happy reading this summer!

My appreciation to the following for open source images:

http://thegreatestbooks.org/

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Great_Books.jpg

https://pixabay.com/en/book-teacup-nature-summer-reading-2388213/

What Did Lucy Read?

What literary works have had an effect on you? Who are your favorite writers, and how have they influenced your perspectives or improved your life?

Have you ever wondered what literary works influenced your favorite writers?

I recently read The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1889-1899, about the woman considered Canada’s most widely read author, who wrote the Anne of Green Gables series and many other books.

I picked it up because I love to read journals in general, and also because I know that the author took great enjoyment from spending time outdoors, enjoying the natural environment on Prince Edward Island, Canada.

This photo of L.M. Montgomery’s Cavendish National Historic Site

of Canada is courtesy of TripAdvisor

 

I wanted to read about her experiences there, and was curious to know what influences and lifestyle produced such a successful author. Was it the solitude of living in a remote area? Did she have siblings, or did she enjoy a quiet household? (Yes, no, and yes.)


This large book seemed daunting, and I didn’t think I’d read the whole thing, but I couldn’t put it down until I’d read the last page. Her style of writing is so engaging —even in her journals.

Throughout her journal entries, she mentions books that she is reading. I was excited to find that I have read a few of the books she read! Here is a partial list of the most well-known titles, about a third of the complete list. (And by the way, as she was born in 1874, she would have read these books between the ages of 14 and 24!)

The Aeneid

The Bible

The Ascent of Man

The Diary of Virginia Woolf

(Ralph Waldo) Emerson’s Essays,

George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals

King Solomon’s Mines

Last Days of Pompeii

The Last of the Mohicans

Midshipman Easy

More Tramps Abroad (also called “Following the Equator”)

Paradise Lost

Quo Vadis

Rip Van Winkle

The Scarlet Letter

To Have and To Hold

Vanity Fair

With classics such as these under her belt as such a young age, it’s no wonder she produced such quality writing of her own.

Which ones have you read? If you are interested in reading some of these books on the list for free, electronically or online, you very well might find them at Gutenberg.org or Archives.org.

And if you like reading journals and diaries, here are some of my previous posts about some interesting ones:

Mark Twain’s Exerpts from Adam’s Diary and Eve’s Diary

The Diary of Anna Green Winslow

The Real Diary of a Real Boy

Illustration from a 1908 publication of Anne of Green Gables

 

 

Review of Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson

When I was in elementary school in Denver, Colorado, there was a book high on the top shelf of the school library that kept catching my eye. The book’s title was my name. How intriguing! I saw it year after year, but I couldn’t reach it, and anyway it looked too thick and grown-up to me. After I left elementary school, from time to time, I would run across the book. I got the impression that it was an overly historical book and very dull. Nevertheless, I’d often think, “One day I’m going to read that.”

Fast forward almost twenty years and I was now living in San Diego, California. One of the places a co-worker had taken me was called Old Town, a historical part of San Diego that included an area called “Ramona’s Marriage Place”. (Here is a photo of me there in 1981.) One day I was browsing around at the public library…and there it was! Helen Hunt Jackson’s book, Ramona. Well within reach now, and no time like the present, I checked it out. I was surprised to find out that it was considered a classic American novel. And to my amazement, this historical novel was set right THERE…in the San Diego area!

Serendipity!

This novel tells the story of Ramona, a half-native woman from a wealthy Spanish family, who meets Alessandro, one of the Native American shepherds near her home. They develop a friendship which turns into love, marriage, devotion and tragedy because of discrimination against her husband.

Helen Hunt Jackson delves into some politically incorrect territory for that time in history. In October of 1879, she learned about the plight of the Native Americans and the mistreatment they received from the government. Sympathizing with their cause, she toured many of their impoverished communities, and wrote articles and a book to publicize their struggles. In 1883 the plot of a novel came to her suddenly one morning, and she began writing.

Of course I highly recommend this classic novel. The inside flap of my 1912 edition says

For over a half century Helen Jackson’s romantic story of Spanish and Indian life in California has been widely read until it has become an American classic. Originally published in 1884, “Ramona” has been issued in various editions, with a total of 135 printings. The Atlantic Monthly has termed the story “one of the most artistic creations of American literature,” while the late Charles Dudley Warner [an American essayist, novelist, and friend of Mark Twain] called it “one of the most charming creations of modern fiction.” Born in 1831, Mrs. Jackson was an ardent champion of the Indians to the end of her useful life, in 1885. “Ramona” has been three times produced as a motion picture, been played on the stage, adapted for a pageant and may eventually be utilized for a grand opera.”

More of my personal connection

I have always had an interest and a special place in my heart for the Native Americans, so of course I loved this book with its focus on these people. That, along with the fact that it was a romance based on actual history, including characters living out their faith, made it nearly the perfect book. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that the tragedy in the story was softened by an unexpected ending of kindness.

The book inspired the Ramona Pageant, which is still performed in the hills of Hemet, California. It is said to be California’s Official Outdoor Play and the longest continuously running outdoor drama in the United States. The original “Ramona” movie came out in 1928, and was remade in 1936, starring Don Ameche and Loretta Young. I’d always known that my grandmother named me after the song, but when I found out that the song was created for the movie based on the book that I loved, I was beyond excited!

While I was growing up, many teachers and other adults sang the first few lines of the song to me, and I finally found a copy of the entire song online. It just so happens that I love it; it is a very sweet, flowing love song. I love the references to nature–hills, mountains, babbing brook, kissing the sky, meeting by the waterfall–and hearing the church “mission bells above”.

One year our family toured southern California and we stayed overnight in the town of Ramona, northeast of San Diego. The town was named to capitalize on the popularity of the fictional character from the best selling novel. I made sure we stopped in Temecula, one of the towns mentioned in the novel (much to my family’s disappointment!), where I purchased a book called The Annotated Ramona and a little Spanish maiden figurine as a memento. The book opened up the whole historical side of the book to me, as well as a biography of the author. I learned that later in her life she moved to Colorado, my home state. Magical!

Here is a postcard a friend in California recently sent me. Notice in the far lower right corner it says, “The Real Ramona”. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but it is clearly quite an old photograph. Very intriguing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of my history, and will check out this wonderful book. It’s a gem!