Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

Peter Nimble is a blind orphan and a thief. His other senses are, of course, exceptionally sharp and perceptive. When he steals a box with three sets of magical eyes and receives a quest to travel to the Vanished Kingdom and rescue the people there, Peter Nimble is challenged beyond anything he has ever experienced in his thieving life. Maybe the Vanished Kingdom needs a blind thief, and maybe Peter Nimble needs to become a hero and find a real home.

Beautiful, humorous, and meaningful writing characterizes this fantasy adventure. The author also inserts little asides that illuminate and explain the story and the world of Peter Nimble. Here are a few sample quotes to whet your appetite:

“Now, for those of you who know anything about blind children, you are aware that they make the very best thieves. As you can well imagine, blind children have incredible senses of smell, and they can tell what lies behind a locked door – be it fine cloth, gold, or peanut brittle – at fifty paces.
Moreover, their fingers are so small and nimble that they can slip right through keyholes, and their ears so keen that they can hear the faint clicks and clacks of every moving part inside even the most complicated lock. Of course, the age of great thievery has long since passed; today there are few child-thieves left, blind or otherwise.”

“There is something wonderful that happens between true friends when they find themselves no longer wasting time with meaningless chatter. Instead, they become content just to share each other’s company. It is the opinion of some that this sort of friendship is the only kind worth having. While jokes and anecdotes are nice, they do not compare with the beauty of shared solitude.”

“If ever you have had the chance to spend quality time with a villainous mastermind, you will know that these people are extraordinarily fond of discussing their evil schemes out loud.”

“You may be thinking that his blindness is no handicap at all, and that it somehow gives him an advantage over the average seeing person. Some of you may even be thinking to yourselves, ‘Boy! I wish I were blind like the great Peter Nimble!’ If you are thinking that, stop right now. Because whatever benefits you may believe that blindness carries with it, you must understand that there are just as many disadvantages.”

Caveats: The story does include some rather violent and creepy images and episodes. There’s a murder of murderous crows who peck out Peter’s eyes and who peck another (villainous) character to death. There are gangs of evil apes and a few dangerous sea serpents. The children in the Vanished Kingdom are degraded and enslaved, and the adults are brainwashed into acquiescence. However, evil is ultimately defeated, and goodness and light win.

An interview with Jonathan Auxier in which he discusses the difficulties of writing a story from the point of view of a blind character.

Mr. Auxier also wrote The Night Gardener, another creepy tale with a fantastic themes and images.

New Picture Books in the Library: July 21, 2016

I’m going to start posting here about the books that I acquire for my library. For those of you who don’t know I have a private subscription library in my home, mostly for homeschoolers, although others who are interested in quality books are welcome to visit or to join. I have a lot of older books that are no longer available from the public library as well as some new books that I think will stand the test of time.

Here’s an annotated list of some of the new/old books I’ve acquired (from thrift stores, used bookstores, library sales, donations) in the past month:

Sing in Praise by Opal Wheeler. I am familiar with Ms. Wheeler’s biographical stories of famous composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and others, but I didn’t know that she had written a book about hymns and hymn writers. In this volume, with beautiful full color and pen-and-ink illustrations, Ms. Wheeler tells the stories of such famous lyricists and musicians as Isaac Watts, Lowell Mason, Charles Wesley, and several others.

The Birds of Bethlehem by Tomie dePaola. “The story of the Nativity from a bird’s-eye view.” It’s Tomie dePaola—and an unusual Christmas story.

On A Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne. Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. A picture book biography of the great physicist. “And in his mind, right then and there Albert was no longer on his bicycle, no longer on the country road . . . he was racing through space on a beam light. It was the biggest, most exciting thought Albert had ever had. And it filled his mind with questions.”

D is for Democracy: A Citizen’s Alphabet by Elissa Grodin. Illustrated by Victor Juhasz. Part of a series of beautiful alphabet books from Sleeping Bear Press.

H is for Home Run: A Baseball Alphabet by Brad Herzog. Illustrated by Melanie Rose. Another in the Sleeping Bear Press series.

Daisy Comes Home by Jan Brett. A Chinese girl, Mei-Mei, raises “happy chickens” and sells their eggs in the market. The story reminds me of the classic Story of Ping because one of the chickens, Daisy, runs away from home because she’s tired of being pecked and pushed out of the nest by the other chickens. Lovely Jan Brett illustrations.

Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be by Jane Sutcliffe. Illustrated by John Shelley. “On the front of the stone, he drew the outline of his David. Then all that was needed was to carve away what was not David. . . . Day after day Michelangelo worked furiously. Every night he went home floured with the dust of not-David. He combed bits of not-David from his beard.”

Cathedral Mouse by Kay Chorao. A small spotted mouse finds a real home in a big, beautiful cathedral. This one reminded me of Norman the Doorman by Don Freeman.

Behold Your Queen! by Gladys Malvern

Behold Your Queen! is a fictionalized version of the book of Esther from the Bible. The novel is by Gladys Malvern, a popular writer of what we would now call “Young Adult fiction”. Back in the 1940’s and 50’s it was called teen fiction or just children’s fiction for older children. Many of her books are set in either Old Testament or New Testament times and are embellishments on familiar Bible stories. Books such as The Foreigner (about Ruth), Saul’s Daughter (about David’s wife, Michal), Tamar, and Rhoda of Cyprus were favorites of mine when I was a teen, and as I re-read Behold Your Queen!, I was again impressed with how Ms. Malvern was able to make the Bible story come alive and make her characters into real, breathing people.

There are a few deviations from the Biblical story. In Ms. Malvern’s book, Esther gives only one feast for the king, her husband and Haman, the evil Amalekite minister. At that first feast, she begs for the lives of her people to be spared and denounces Haman as the enemy of the Hebrew people as well as the enemy of the king himself. The author adds many details and descriptions of Persian court life and of King Xerxes/Ahasuerus and other characters and settings in the story. However, the basic story is the same, and the author has the Jews give credit to Esther and to “Almighty God” for their deliverance from the hand of the evil Haman.

I’ve posted before about the book of Esther. It’s a fascinating story. Chuck Swindoll wrote a book about Esther called Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity. I also have a couple of other post about Esther, Soundtrack for the Book of Esther and Esther, Illustrated. On the latter subject, the “decorations” in Gladys Malvern’s Behold Your Queen! are done by her sister Corrine, who was the illustrator for most (all?) of Gladys’ books.

I had a fascination with historical fiction based on Biblical narratives or set in Biblical times for a while when I was a teen, and Gladys Malvern was one of my go-to authors. Others who wrote these kinds of tales back in the early to mid twentieth century or before were Lloyd C. Douglas (The Robe, The Big Fisherman), Lew Wallace (Ben-hur), Norah Lofts (How Far to Bethlehem?), Elizabeth George Speare (The Bronze Bow), Joanne Williamson (Hittite Warrior), Marjorie Holmes (Two from Galilee), Patricia St. John (Twice Freed), and Frank G. Slaughter (The Road to Bithynia and many others). All of these stories were more or less Biblically accurate and made me think about the Biblical narratives in new ways as the people in them began to feel like real people instead of the flannel-graph one-dimensional characters of my childhood understanding. Whether it’s by means of historical fiction or the kinds of imaginative Bible study, I think it’s important that the people of the Bible be understood in this way as one grows and learns more about them.

Saturday Review of Books: July 16, 2016

“We have grown to associate morality in a book with a kind of optimism and prettiness; according to us, a moral book is a book about moral people. But the old idea was almost the opposite; a moral book was a book about immoral people.” ~G.K. Chesterton

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Heidi’s Children by Charles Tritten

The two sequels to Johanna Spyri’s beloved Heidi, Heidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children, were neither written nor endorsed by Spyri, but were adapted from her other works by her French translator, Charles Tritten, in the 1930s, many years after the Swiss author of Heidi died. Nevertheless, I read them both when I was a girl, wanting more Heidi, and I found them to be satisfyingly Heidi-like in style and substance.

I decided to re-read Heidi’s Children, after purchasing a used copy from a friend. It’s really a beautiful and intriguing story. In Heidi Grows Up, Heidi goes away to boarding school and then returns to Dorfli to teach in the village school. Eventually, she and Peter are married (as everyone who has read Heidi would know and want them to do). Heidi’s Children begins in the springtime with Heidi and Peter expecting their first child.

Several things about the ideas and perspective in this book impressed me.

Heidi’s and Peter’s attitude about marriage, unremarkable in the 1930’s when this book was published, seems charmingly antiquated in these oh-so-enlightened times:

“. . . with Spring would come one of the greatest joys that a young wife can experience. For both Peter and Heidi felt that no marriage was complete until it was blessed with children. Spring held this promise. Even at the wedding the great event had been prepared for and the cradle had stood ready. This was the custom. Often at a Grisons wedding, the cradle was prepared and a child walked with the bride and groom carrying wheat. This was a sign that the marriage would be fruitful, that there would soon be children.”

Who would think that almost a century after the time of this story, people not only would see children as a nuisance and even a curse rather than “one of the greatest joys” and a blessing and a promise, but would also devalue marriage itself to the point that it has become an unnecessary burden or a meaningless “piece of paper” to many?

I also like the way Heidi and Peter live with their extended family and in community. Heidi’s grandfather, the Alm-Uncle, lives with them, and so does Peter’s mother, Brigitta. Jamy, the village school teacher and a school friend of Heidi’s, boards with the family, and Jamy brings her little sister, Marta, to live with the family as well. Other visitors, such as Klara and Herr Sesemann, are in and out, and it’s just a wonderful picture of a loving community, several generations, helping and serving one another.

I also liked the themes of courage overcoming fear, forgiveness and understanding, visual images and stories as vehicles for knowing God and His love. Little Marta is a good replacement child character for little Heidi, and the grown-up Heidi is someone an adult reader feels as if she would like to have for a friend. Altogether, the Heidi series is a delight, even if the authors are two different people. Tritten writes of his justification for writing the sequels in his foreward to Heidi’s Children:

“I knew Madame Spyri as well as one human, even of a different race, could know another. Every book she wrote was a labor of love for the children she knew so well. Each was written in memory of that little ‘lost one’ who used to ask her to tell him what lay beyond ‘forever after.’ I know that she never refused to grant a child’s wish as long as she lived.”

Saturday Review of Books: July 9, 2016

“‘Oh, hurry up and get the supper work done so we can read,’ Mary said eagerly. But Ma said, ‘Never mind the work, Laura! Read us a story!'” ~Laura Ingalls Wilder, On the Shores of Silver Lake

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

BooksBloom Seminar

Dear Homeschoolers and other bookish friends,

The BooksBloom seminar and book sale in Friendswood, TX is coming up soon. This literature-rich seminar and book sale is less than two weeks away. You need to pay your pre-registration fee of $20.00 per family by July 15th in order to be pre-registered for the seminar.

WHAT IS A BOOKSBLOOM SEMINAR?
A BooksBloom seminar is an opportunity for booklovers to gather for a informal time with Gary and Jan Bloom and their wonderful books. The Blooms’ mini-bookstore of over 4,000 carefully selected used and vintage books will be also available for you to browse and purchase books.

At a BooksBloom Seminar you will receive:

• Winning arguments that flaunt the modern ideology which esteems only electronic media.

• Affirmation for your own love of books through interaction with other bibliophiles.

• Instruction on how to develop your own cost-saving resources for procuring good books

• Encouragement to cultivate a dynamic home library that meets the needs of your family.

For excellent teaching and encouragement in your literature-rich homeschool journey, plan to attend the BooksBloom seminar at Trinity Fellowship in Friendswood, Monday evening and Tuesday, July 18-19. The cost per family is only $20.00, if you pre-register before the seminar starts. And you get $15 back in store credit when you buy at least $50 worth of books from the Blooms’ excellent bookstore. If 25 or more families pre-register: everyone pre-registering gets a 25% discount on their purchase IN ADDITION to the $15 credit.

The BooksBloom Seminar in Friendswood, TX is sponsored by Meriadoc Homeschool Library. For more information or to pre-register, email me or leave a comment.

The BooksBloom schedule will look like this:

Monday, July 18th
Noon-2:00 Set up
3:00 – 6:00 Preview shopping
6:00 – 10:00 Shopping
6:30 – 7:30 First workshop “Sailing on Living Light” (Jan)
7:45-9:00 Second workshop “Keepers of the Books” (Jan)
“Gather ‘Round, Children” (Gary)
10:00 PM Close

Tuesday, July 19th
8:30 – 9:00 Open for shopping
8:30 – 1:00 Shopping
9:00 -10:00 Third workshop “Cradle to Grade: Giving your Child a Love for Books” (Jan)
“The Idiot’s Guide to Building Bookcases” (Gary)
10:30-11:30 Fourth workshop “Foundational Five: Bible stories, Fairy tales, Mother Goose, Aesop’s Fables and Mythology” (Jan)
“How to REALLY Love Your Homeschooling Wife” (Gary)
1:00 PM Close

More detailed seminar descriptions can be found at the website: BooksBloom. Please share this information with friends in the Houston area that you think might be interested. Your friends can come and shop even if they didn’t pre-register for the seminar, but they won’t get Jan’s and Gary’s seminars and won’t get the discount of $15.00 off a $50.00 purchase.

Theodosia, Daughter of Aaron Burr by Anne Colver

My daughters have become engrossed in listening to the soundtrack from the Broadway musical, Hamilton, and therefore I have listened to bits and pieces of it quite a few times over the past couple of weeks. (Warning: there’s some fairly foul language in the lyrics to the musical, as well as some lurid gossip about the main characters. On the other hand, some of the lyrics are quite funny and witty.) As one thing leads to another, I noticed this book on the shelves of my library and decided to read it. Theodosia Burr Alston was the only (legitimate)* daughter of Aaron Burr, who figures prominently in the life and, of course, death of Alexander Hamilton.

Anne Colver wrote this book for children or young adults, and it was published in 1941. The content is largely pro-Burr, although various characters can’t help speculating that Burr may have lost at least some of his reason and judgment after the duel with Hamilton. Aside from murdering Hamilton, Burr does do other fantastical and ill-judged things: in particular he becomes involved in a plot to invade Mexico and either to deliver it to the United States or to set up a rival empire with Aaron Burr as emperor.

We see Aaron Burr in the book from the point of view of the adoring Theodosia. Her love never fails. She always believes in her father, always expects the best of him, always stands her ground in defending him. However, Theodora’s husband, Joseph Alston, makes a telling statement about his father-in-law, which becomes the summary judgment of this take on Aaron Burr: “It’s hard to pity a man who can never admit he’s been mistaken. Your father has so much to make him a great man, Theo. He has brilliance and ambition and energy. And magnificent courage. But he has more pride than any man is entitled to in this world.”

And yet, Theodosia, and the readers of this lightly fictionalized biography of Theodosia Burr Alston are impelled to pity Theodosia and her infamous father by the end of the book. He almost became president, but he was also thwarted and insulted at every turn by Alexander Hamilton and his political allies. Burr lost his wife (also named Theodosia) during Washington’s presidency. He endured Hamilton’s calumnies for many years without reply. Then, came the duel, which Burr initiated, and the people of New York were so incensed at Burr that he felt he had to leave the country. And he owed so many debts that he fled with hardly any money to France where he lived in near-poverty. Then, after the Southwestern Empire debacle, Theodosia’s only child, a son named for his grandfather, died of a fever. And in the final tragedy of the book, Theodosia set out from Charleston to travel by ship to New York to visit her aging and still beloved father, but the ship she was on never arrived. Lost at sea.

I don’t really know what to think about Aaron Burr or his daughter. Anya Seton wrote a novel, My Theodosia, also published in 1941, which apparently paints a much different picture of Burr and his daughter. I haven’t read Seton’s novel, but according to Wikipedia Seton portrays a traitorous and hugely ambitious Aaron Burr and again, an adoring and manipulable Theodosia. Burr offers his daughter the opportunity to become Princess of the Western American Empire, and young Theodosia has a brief romance with Meriwether Lewis, thwarted by her protective father. I prefer the Colver version of Theodosia and her father, but I’m not at all sure what is actually accurate or true.

And so the Burrs remain an enigma to some extent, but fascinating nevertheless.

*I went on a bit of a rabbit trail after reading the Wikipedia article about Aaron Burr, which stated that he had two illegitimate children with his East Indian servant, Mary Emmons. These two children, John (Jean) Pierre Burr and Louisa Charlotte Burr, grew up to become influential members of the free black community in Philadelphia, and Burr’s grandson, Frank J. Webb, wrote the second African American novel ever to be published. What would Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher and Aaron’s Burr’s grandfather, have thought of his illustrious, infamous grandson and his progeny?

Saturday Review of Books: July 2, 2016

“He who loveth a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, or an effectual comforter.” ~Isaac Barrow

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie. Sarah produces the podcast, Read-Aloud Revival.

“[W]e have been blessed and loved by a God who even enables us to love our enemies. Surely if we can love our enemies, then we can love the laundry, or Latin, or math studies.”

This book was good for reminding homeschool moms, in particular, to slow down, get rest, and not sweat the small stuff. Most of it really is small stuff. Sarah MacKenzie has some specific advice that would be quite liberating and well, restful, were the right people to take her advice. I find that the people who are too loose and carefree in their homeschooling don’t need the advice to “loosen up and rest”, and those who are too structured and perfectionistic will have trouble listening to a message that tells them not to worry and just be happy. But some of us who are in-between might be able to take Ms. Mackenzie’s words to heart.

For example, her “Five Ways to Simplify the Curriculum” are no real revelation, but they are solid, good advice:

1. Do less: “What most curricular models provide today is a survey of everything and mastery in nothing, so our children get an education that is a mile wide and an inch deep. That’s not true eduction. We need to lead our children out of the shallows in order to dive into the deep.”

2. Integrate: “Realize that when you are reading aloud from The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, you are not just doing literature. If you read it slowly, enjoying it, taking time to contemplate the ideas and discuss them with your kids, you are taking on history, geography, writing, vocabulary, theology, and philosophy as well. This isn’t dabbling; it’s wrestling.”

3. Understand the limitations of published resources: “Remember that the published resources are to be weirded by you, not to rule over you. . . . We are teaching people, not books.”

4. Bake in review time. Plan ahead for “times of reassessment as the year progresses.” Ms. Mackenzie says, “Doing so helps me progress through daily, consistent work without falling prey to frenzy, anxiety, or an impulsive change in the curriculum.”

5. Remember the point: “A child who loves and hates what he ought is a truly educated child—and that is the larger ‘point’ of education.

Nothing really new or ground-breaking in this book of good old-fashioned maxims similar to the above, but then I’m getting old and crochety and suspicious of new and ground-breaking advice. Sarah Mackenzie encourages homeschool moms to remember their roots, trust their instincts and teach from rest. Not a bad reminder at all. And quite restful.