May in Scotland

I’ve decided, in honor of the musical theater production, based on George MacDonald’s romance novel Malcolm (aka The Fisherman’s Lady), that my girls are involved in this month, to make a quick, imaginary visit to Scotland during the merry month of May. I thought I’d link to some old posts about books set in Scotland and read a few new ones.

First the old:
Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf. I just read and posted about this picture book a couple of weeks ago.
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Also a recent read, this novel is historical fiction set before, during and after the Jacobite attempted restoration in 1715 of James III of England and James VIII of Scotland, the Pretender, to the throne of Scotland.
Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.
Queen’s Play by Dorothy Dunnett.
The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett.

Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett.
Rescuing Seneca Crane by Susan Runholt.
The Island of Mad Scientists by Howard Whitehouse.
Hamish McBeth mysteries by M.C. Beaton.
The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith.
Caledonia, Legend of the Celtic Stone: An Epic Saga of Scotland and her People by Michael Phillips.
44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith.

I’d like to read some of the books from this list during May and post about them for my hurried trip to Scotland:
Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter.
Mrs. Tim Gets a Job by D.E. Stevenson.
The King’s Swift Rider by Mollie Hunter.
The Fields of Bannockburn by Donna Fletcher Crow.
Martin Farrell by Janni Howker.
Waverley by Sir Walter Scott.
Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott.
Valiant Minstrel: The Story of Harry Lauder by Gladys Malvern. Sir Harry Lauder was a vaudeville singer and comedian from Scotland.
Malcolm, or The Fisherman’s Lady by George MacDonald.
The Marquis’ Secret by George MacDonald.
Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald.
How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It by Arthur Herman.
The Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett. I’d like to finish this fifth book in the Lymond Chronicles, but my huge city library system doesn’t have this one. I may have to actually purchase it.
Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett. And the sixth and final book in the series.
The Hornet’s Nest by Sally Watson.
Highland Rebel by Sally Watson.
The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber.
The King’s Swift Rider by Mollie Hunter.
Scottish Seas by Douglas M. Jones III.
The Flowers of the Field by Elizabeth Byrd.
In Freedom’s Cause: A Story of Wallace and Bruce by GA Henty.
Meggy MacIntosh: A Highland Girl in the Carolina Colony by Elizabeth Gray Vining.
Mary Queen of Scots and The Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir.
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole.

Then, here are some Scottish flavored books I’ve read but not reviewed here at Semicolon. I remember all of these as books I would recommend:
Immortal Queen by Elizabeth Byrd. Historical romance about Mary, Queen of Scots.
The Iron Lance by Stephen Lawhead.
The 39 Steps by John Buchan.
Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush by Ian MacLaren.. A collection of stories of church life in a glen called Drumtochty in Scotland in the 1800’s. Recommended.
The Little Minister by J.M. Barrie. I get this one mixed up in my head with the Bonnie Brier Bush because both are set in rural Scotland among church people, and both are good. Also recommended.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.
The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald.
The Queen’s Own Fool by Jane Yolen. Mary, Queen of Scots again.

Recommended by other friends and bloggers:
The Tartan Pimpernel by Donald Caskie. Reviewed by Barbara at Stray Thoughts.
Robert Burns’ poetry, highlighted at Stray Thoughts.
Thistle and Thyme by Sorche Nic Leodhas. I actually have this collection of Scottish folktales in my library, and I must read it this month.
Heather and Broom by Sorche Nic Leodhas.
Claymore and Kilt : Tales of Scottish Kings and Castles by Sorche Nic Leodhas.
The Scotswoman by Inglis Fletcher.
Guns in the Heather by Lockhart Amerman.
The Gardener’s Grandchildren by Barbara Willard.
Duncan’s War (Crown and Covenant #1) by Douglas Bond.
Outlaws of Ravenhurst by M. Imelda Wallace.
Quest for a Maid by Frances May Hendry.
Little House in the Highlands by Melissa Wiley.
Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff. “The beginnings of the Jacobite rebellion when King James fled to Holland.”
The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter.
The Lothian Run by Mollie Hunter.
The Three Hostages by John Buchan. Recommended by Carol at Journey and Destination.
Scotland’s Story by H.E. Marshall.

Movies set in Scotland:
Brigadooon. I like this one partly because of Gene Kelly, partly because it takes place in Scotland, and partly because Eldest Daughter was in a local production of Brigadoon several years ago.
Stone of Destiny. Recommended by HG at The Common Room. I enjoyed this movie based on a true incident in 1950 when four Scots student stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey and returned it to Scotland from whence it came back in the thirteenth century.
Braveheart. William Wallace and all that jazz.

Scots poetry:
Young Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott.
From Marmion by Sir Walter Scott.
My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns.
In the Prospect of Death by Robert Burns.
Lament for Culloden by Robert Burns.
Beneath the Cross of Jesus by Elizabeth Clephane.
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go by George Matheson.

If you have anything posted at your blog that tastes of Scottish heritage or culture, let me know, and I’ll add a link to your book review or post in this round-up of all things Scots. Or if you have a book or even a movie to recommend, leave me a comment. I’ll keep this post on the front page during May, and I’ll be adding to it as my journey progresses. You are welcome to travel to Scotland with me this month, and we will see what there is to see.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: Now It’s a Movie?

I am reposting this review from a couple of years ago because it’s become newly relevant with the movie, based on this book, that’s just come out. Some of my friends on Facebook said they were happy to have this information because the movie sounds so sweet and romantic. Is there a legal penalty for deceptive packing of of movies? This book, and very probably the movie version too, is poisonous.

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I was deeply disappointed by this long, engaging, insidious apologia for assisted suicide, or “mercy killing” as the euphemism goes. I saw this title on so very many end-of-the-year favorites lists, and I thought it sounded engaging. It was. The characters were appealing, and Louisa Clark’s project to make her quadriplegic “patient”, Will Traynor, take an interest in life, kept me turning the pages to see what would happen.

I didn’t want easy answers. I know people who live in chronic pain, and I know people who deal with severe disability every day of their lives. It’s not easy, and their problems should not be trivialized by an unearned and unexamined happily-ever-after ending to a novel. However, (SPOILER: I’m not at all reluctant to write spoilers for a novel that engages in blatant propaganda), the ending to this novel trivializes life itself, and its ending makes the lives of disabled people and people who are in pain seem cheap and worthless.

Serendipitously, I saw a tweet today that connected me to this blog post quoting Marilyn Golden, Senior Policy Analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, at a disability rights group blog called Not Dead Yet. These are some reasons she gives to be concerned about laws being proposed in in such far-flung places as Scotland, New Hampshire, and New Mexico—and about the legalization of assisted suicide that is already in effect in Washington state and in Oregon:

Deadly mix: Assisted suicide is a deadly mix with our profit-driven healthcare system. At $300, assisted suicide will be the cheapest treatment. Assisted suicide saves insurance companies money—even with full implementation of the greatly-needed Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).
Abuse: Abuse of people with disabilities, and elder abuse, are rising. Not every family is a supportive family! Where assisted suicide is legal, such as in Oregon, an heir or abusive caregiver may steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and even give the drug—no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know?
Mistakes: Diagnoses of terminal illness are too often wrong, leading people to give up on treatment and lose good years of their lives, where assisted suicide is legal.
Careless: Where assisted suicide is legal, no psychological evaluation is required or even recommended. People with a history of depression and suicide attempts have received the lethal drugs.
Burden: Financial and emotional pressures can also make people choose death.
Unnecessary: Everyone already has the legal right to refuse treatment and get full palliative care, including, if dying in pain, pain-relieving palliative sedation.
No true safeguards: Where assisted suicide is legal, the safeguards are hollow, with no enforcement or investigation authority.
Our quality of life underrated: Society often underrates people with disabilities’ quality of life. Will doctors & nurses fully explore our concerns and fight for our full lives? Will we get suicide prevention or suicide assistance?

Of course, in Me Before You, all of the family are motivated by pure concern for the quadriplegic Will. Will himself makes a completely autonomous and carefully considered decision to kill himself, and no one is allowed to really argue that he is in no condition to make such a decision. One character, Will’s caregiver’s mother, is outspoken and unshaken in her opposition to “mercy killing”, but she is a peripheral character and the only one who is not finally recruited and convinced by Will’s suffering and his determination to support him in his decision to end his life.

A book that showed both (or many) sides of this issue, even if it ended in the same way, would have been worth reading. As it is, Ms. Moyes has used her admittedly fine writing talent to propagandize for death, and I think it’s a pity.

Not recommended.

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Very piratical. And romantical.

Not really bloody. Or violent. Well, not very. I mean, there are pirates. But Captain Peter Blood (that’s his real name) is a gentleman pirate. He only kills bad guys. And a lot of the really bad, violent stuff occurs off-stage, so to speak. Captain Blood reminds me of Captain Jack Sparrow, sort of quirky and not always trustworthy. He lives by his own code of honor and morality, and it’s not exactly the traditional one of his time and culture. Still, Captain Blood sees himself, and others mostly see him, as a gentleman, forced into piracy by circumstances beyond his control and trying to make the best of it.

The story begins in England, 1685. (You can read an article with detailed historical background to the novel here.) Peter Blood is a “bachelor of medicine and several other things besides.” He becomes inadvertently involved in the Monmouth Rebellion against King James II of England. Although he is innocent, guilty only of sheltering and assisting medically one of the fleeing rebels, Blood is convicted of treason, and in lieu of a sentence of execution, he is sent to Barbados as a slave. Eventually after years of captivity, Peter Blood escapes from his master in Barbados, but since he is an outlaw and an escaped slave with a price on his head, he has little choice but to become a buccaneer, or privateer, or in common parlance, a pirate.

Some of the events in Peter Blood’s career as a pirate sound very similar to the exploits of the actual pirate Henry Morgan, fictionalized in John and Patricia Beatty’s book, Pirate Royal. Sabatini explains this similarity in his book by saying that Captain Morgan’s biographer, Esquemeling, must have read the ship’s log of Captain BLood’s ship. “Esquemeling must have obtained access to these records, and he plucked from them the brilliant feathers of several exploits to stick them into the tale of his own hero, Captain Morgan. I mention it chiefly as a warning, for when presently I come to relate the affair of Maracaybo, those of you who have read Esquemeling may be in danger of supposing that Henry Morgan really performed those things which are veraciously attributed to Peter Blood.”

So, Captain Blood, the epitome of the pirate adventure story, published in 1922, is a good bet to recommend to teens and adults looking for pirate books. The Sea Hawk is another pirate story from the pen of the prolific Sabatini. Both of these novels were adapted into movies by the Hollywood film machine of the 1920’s and 1930’s, twice each, first as silent films and again as “talkies”, the latter starring the swashbuckling film hero, Errol Flynn.

Cola Fountains and Spattering Paint Bombs by Jesse Goossens and Linde Faas

A book of 47 science experiments for children to do at home. (Why 47?)

This colorful book has the basics plus a few: volcanoes made of baking soda and vinegar, a storm in a jar or clouds in a jar, a bouncy ball made of borax, cornstarch and glue, invisible ink, and lava lamps, just to name some. Each experiment has a set of symbol pictures next to the title to indicate that it might be “exploding” or “messy” or easy or difficult or requiring fire or safety goggles or a longer time period than usual.

This book is a Dutch import, but the translators and editors have done a good job of Americanizing, as far as I can see. I didn’t catch any “European-isms” in the ingredients lists for the experiments. The measurements are in the units commonly used in this country: cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons. American parents might be a little surprised by the “paint bomb” with which one can “turn your doorstep into a painting!” But it’s marked as “messy” and “explodes” and “do this outside”. Maybe there should be another symbol for “ask your parents first before you paint the front porch.”

These experiments involve lots of baking soda, lots of eggs and balloons and sugar and salt and bubbles and explosions. There is a note in the front of the book on the reverse side of the title page opposite the table of contents, easy to miss, that tells readers: “All of the experiments in this book require adult supervision, and some require careful, hands-on adult assistance. Even materials that might not appear dangerous can be harmful in certain situations if mixed, or if used improperly. Any experiments using fire are safest performed outside and require particular adult assistance and attention. Some materials and experiments may endanger people or pets, either in the process of doing them or if left unattended or stored improperly. Get adult help to decide which ones are right for you, and make sure an adult is there helping along the way. Read through the experiment completely before starting.”

I’m quite curious as to whether or not that same disclaimer appears in the Dutch edition of this book. Or is only Americans who feel the need to warn children in tiny print that fire burns and that chemicals combined may explode or poison the dog?

How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman

How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It by Arthur Herman.

What a fascinating piece of narrative nonfiction history! I learned so many things that I didn’t know before:

The Treaty of Union between England and Scotland (1706-1707), according to Mr. Herman, was actually a huge boost to Scottish commerce, progress, and culture. As he writes the story, the Scots may have given up their independence, but they received innumerable benefits from the deal, including a paradoxical and practical independence from English interference in their affairs that enabled the Scots to “invade” London and indeed England and become leaders in government, education, and business for over a century.

Philosophers Adam Smith and David Hume, historians and biographers James Boswell and Thomas Babbington Macaulay, poets Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, inventors John Macadam (macadam roads), Thomas Telford (canals and bridges galore), James Watt (steam engine), and many other men, both famous and under-appreciated, were all Scots or of Scottish extraction.

Scotswomen, other than the Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald, seem to have been quite unheard of and unremarkable in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, at least. The dearth of women in the pages of this book reminded me of the scarcity/non-mention of dwarf women in The Lord of the Rings. You know there must be women, and every once in a while a “mother” is mentioned, but the women were not part of literary, educational, or polite society. (Scotsmen remind me of dwarves, or vice-versa, anyway.)

The whole Bonnie Prince Charlie thing and Highland kilts and bagpipes made the Highlands of Scotland a tourist attraction in the early 1800’s, mostly because of Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

Scotland’s literacy rate (boys and girls) was higher than any other country in the world by the end of the eighteenth century, and printing and book-selling were major industries in Edinburgh during that same century.

And lots more. I found this book fascinating, even if it was a somewhat one-sided view of the power, influence and sheer overwhelming greatness of Scotland and its culture. If everything good, especially in the eighteenth century, came out of Scotland, what happened in England, Ireland, France, America, even China? Another fault in the book, the author begins his story with the true tale of Edinburgh theology student Thomas Aikenhead who was hanged in 1697 for the crime of “obstinate blasphemy”. Herman calls Scotland “a nation governed by a harshly repressive Kirk; a nation of an unforgiving and sometimes cruel Calvinist religious faith.” However, the rest of the book makes little of the influence of the “Kirk” or of Calvinism or indeed of Christianity in general, even though most of the Enlightenment figures in Scotland who dominate the culture for the next two centuries were professing Christians, many of them ordained ministers. With the notable exception of atheist philosopher David Hume, it’s as if their religious beliefs were baggage to be hidden away or overcome and not an influence on their thinking at all.

I would have liked to read more about how the faith of men such as educator, theologian, and philosopher Francis Hutcheson shaped their theology —or perhaps how Mr. Hutcheson was able to reconcile his Presbyterianism with his belief in the innate goodness of man. In fact, the author, Mr. Herman, does highlight the Christian faith of Hutcheson, although with less of a explanation of how that faith was worked out in his life than I would have liked. But the faith of other men who are featured in the book would have been valuable to explore and in treating to read about.

Nevertheless, even if the book is biased in favor of Scotland’s influence and standing in the world, and even if Scots Calvinism is given short shrift in the building of that Scottish moral philosophy, How the Scots Invented the Modern World certainly was a good read. It made me want to look up and find the names and histories of some of my own Scottish ancestors so that I could claim a part in the Scottish heritage that Mr, Herman so ably extols.

Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson

I’m honestly not sure what I think about N.D. Wilson’s newest book, the beginning of a series called Outlaws of Time. The story is really dark and violent, and as with some of Wilson’s other books it moves too fast for me with too many layers of meaning. I feel as if I’m missing something when I read Wilson’s fantasy, in particular. Actually, I feel dumb. On the other hand, I loved Boys of Blur and Leepike Ridge, especially, and this one has some of the elements that I liked from those: a very American setting, brave kids, adventure, lots of good writing with good metaphors and similes. I just feel as if I have whiplash from trying to follow all the symbolism and hidden meanings and the time travel.

For example, Sam Miracle (his real name) begins the story as a resident (inmate?) of Saint Anthony of the Desert Destitute Youth Ranch, SADDYR. And it’s a sad place, governed by your typical fictional orphanage parents, Mr. and Mrs. Spalding. There are twelve boys at SADDYR, including Sam, and the others are Pete, Drew, Jude, Barto, brothers Jimmy Z and Johnny Z, Flip the Lip, Matt Cat and Sir T(homas), Tiago Lopez, and Simon Zeal. They’re all juvenile delinquents, but they have the names of the twelve apostles in the Bible, minus Judas Iscariot. Yes, I noticed that little naming trick immediately, and it’s kind of cool. But why? Why do Sam’s friends and cohorts have the same names as Jesus’ twelve disciples? What does it mean? Sam isn’t Jesus or a Christ figure, or is he? The priest, Father Tiempo, that Sam meets in the desert is kind of a Christ figure who gives up his life/lives to save Sam and the rest of the world through Sam, but then the priest turns out to be someone else, not Jesus at all. Sam is the one sent to save the world from the evil Vulture, El Buitre, but he’s a violent and at the same time, vulnerable, savior, sent to use his deadly snake arms to kill The Vulture. Even though he’s mangled and wounded by the bad guys in the story, and handicapped by his unreliable memory and his lack of confidence in his own abilities, Sam is a survivor, redeemed and resurrected multiple times. I suppose I’m trying to make the story too simplistic, the characters too allegorical. But allegory is implied in the names and actions of the characters. (I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’s professed hatred of allegory in all its forms while at least parts of his Narnia stories are clearly allegorical in nature.)

Then there’s the time travel, enough time travel to make Hurley’s head hurt a lot (LOST reference, there). This book reminded me of LOST–way too much to figure out, and maybe half of it doesn’t mean anything, just the author playing around. Sam and his friend Glory travel though time, around time, behind time, on the edges of time, and through the cracks between times. I’m a straight-forward, A-Z kind of gal, and although I can handle one time jump, or maybe two, the ramifications of all the time travel in this book make me feel as if I’ve lost my grip on reality. Sam Miracle certainly loses his mind and memory and his sense of what’s real and what’s a dream quite often throughout the course of the story. And since Sam is the main viewpoint character, so did I.

PC critics are going to hate all the guns and all the bullets flying. Even though one of Sam’s snake arms, Speck, is a little bit goofy and doesn’t want to hurt anyone, the other one, Cindy, is “a killer, a nightmare.” Speck shoots the weapons out of the bad guys’ hands, but Cindy shoots to kill. Again, I’m tempted to draw allegorical parallels or symbolical confusion from the contrast between Sam’s left arm, vicious sidewinder Cindy, and his right arm, distractible pet snake Speck, but I will refrain.

Do I think kids will like Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle? Yes, I think so, but I’m not sure what exactly they will get out of it. Maybe that’s good. Maybe that makes me a little uneasy as a parent who’s tempted to give them a neat little book in which I know the “moral of the story”. Maybe one moral of this particular story is that life isn’t neat or predictable, and neither should the stories that we share with each other and with our children be unsurprising and tidily understood. Or maybe, like the authors of LOST, Mr. Wilson is just playing around, having fun with the names and the nicknames and the numbers and the times and the snakes and the guns and all the things that make me want to read the next book in the series.

However, I would warn the author that playing with guns can be quite dangerous.

“You know,” Glory said, watching. “There’s a difference between real life and books. Don’t act like they’re the same.”

“Sure,” Sam said. “Getting life right is a lot harder.”

The Marquis’ Secret by George MacDonald

In 1875, George MacDonald, Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister, published the novel Malcolm, the rags-to-riches story of a common fisherman who finds his identity as a (Christian) gentleman. The sequel to Malcolm, The Marquis of Lossie, soon followed in 1877. This was the era of Charles Dickens and the other great Victorian novelists, and MacDonald was following in their tradition, with a bit of a difference. First of all, MacDonald, a friend and mentor to Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), was a pioneering author of fantasy (The Princess and the Goblin, At the Back of the North Wind, The Light Princess) as well as the realistic, romantic novels the Victorians had grown to love and read avidly. And MacDonald was emphatically a Scot. His novels almost all take place in Scotland or in a fantasy world that looks and sounds a lot like Scotland—–with all the heather and mountains and seas and kilts and bagpipes and thick Scottish brogue that such a setting implies.

In the 1980’s, Christian author Michael Phillips wanted to make MacDonald’s realistic fiction more accessible for a new generation. He edited the two volumes of Malcolm’s story and re-published them with the Gaelic language toned down and reinterpreted and with some of MacDonald’s long didactic passages either excised or edited to be shorter and more to the point. Phillips also gave the novels new titles, The Fisherman’s Lady and The Marquis’ Secret. You can purchase these updated versions (or borrow them from Meriadoc Homeschool Library). Or you can read Malcolm and The Marquis of Lossie in the original language online at Project Gutenberg or other online book sites.

In The Marquis’ Secret, Malcolm, who has been secretly told of his true identity, must decide how to handle the information and the responsibility he has inherited. There’s a running analogy in the book between the taming of a wild horse and the growth of a man (or woman) and the “taming” of that man’s (or woman’s) sin nature. As Malcolm must discipline and guide the horse, so the Lord must tame and discipline His children to bring them into the fullness of what He has created them to be.

The two novels that make up the story of Malcolm are all that modern literature is required not to be: melodramatic, yes; didactic, absolutely; one dimensional characters, yes, that too. Malcolm is a hero, through and through, although he says he has had to allow God to tame his temper and his passion for justice. The bad guys are obviously evil, but in MacDonald’s near-universalist worldview there is much hope for redemption for each of them. Nevertheless, sometimes a dose of hopeful preaching through Victorian drama with characters who are recognizably either good or bad (until the bad repent and become good) is just what the reading soul needs. If you want an absorbing drama that will leave you encouraged rather than discouraged about mankind and the depth of God’s mercy, George MacDonald’s Malcolm is just the ticket.

And if you’re in the Friendswood/Clear Lake/South Houston area this weekend, the play, Malcolm, is being performed by Selah Arts at Trinity Fellowship in Friendswood, May 26, 27, and 28th at 7:00 pm each evening.

Come With Me to . . . by Gloria Fowler

Come With Me to Paris by Gloria Fowler. Illustrated by Min Heo.
Come With Me to New York by Gloria Fowler. Illustrated by Min Heo.

“Min Heo is an illustrator and recent graduate of the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California.” (From Amazon)

The illustrations are what create interest in this series of books exploring the world’s cities. We have Paris and New York, soon to be joined in July, 2016 by a book entitled Come With Me to London. The pictures are simple, yet colorful and intriguing. If you like the cover illustration, you’ll get more similar pictures inside each book.

The text is rhyming, and although the rhythm or scansion is really off in most of the mostly four line poems that describe each site in either Paris or New York, they are readable, short and to the point. Again, I think the pictures are the focal point anyway. For example:

Along the Seine,
Where the bridges do cross;
From Pont Neuf, make a wish,
With a coin we can toss.

(I’ve no idea why there’s a semicolon after the word “cross” in that one?) It annoys me that the poetry is so poor, but the pictures make up for the lack of rhythm.

In Paris, we get a picture and verse for the Eiffel Tower, the Palais Garnier, the Louvre, Sacré-Coeur, Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Arc de Triomphe, Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and several other sites. For New York City, there are visits to Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Natural History Museum, the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park Zoo, Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, Times Square, and more.

If you’re taking a trip to either city, or to London in the future, these exciting picture books would be a good accompaniment to your vacation. Or if you live in New York or Paris, your child might enjoy getting to know the city through one of these books and then visiting the places that are featured.

The Hornet’s Nest by Sally Watson

In 1773, Ronald Cameron and his sister Lauchlin are busily waging their own private war against the oppressive Sassenach (English soldiers) as the two young Highlanders work and play around their Scottish home. Their parents fought the English invaders and supported the Stuart King Jamie and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Now Ronald and Laughlin believe it is their turn to carry on the struggle, especially when their elderly cousin Matthew from Virginia comes to visit and encourages their rebellion and love for liberty. However, when the sister and brother team get into real trouble with the occupation forces, their parents have no choice but to send them to Virginia to stay with their loyalist aunt, Lavinia Lennox.

The characters in Sally Watson’s Family Tree Series are all a part of the same family, the Lennoxes, and Cousin Matthew in this book is even studying his family genealogy. So there’s a running thread of family heritage and pugnacious, spunky traits that are handed down through the family, especially among the girls. The other books in the series are Linnet (London, 1582), Mistress Malapert (Shakespearean England, 1599), The Outrageous Oriel (English civil war, 1641), Loyal and the Dragon (English civil war, 1642), Witch of the Glens (Scotland, 1644), Lark (Puritan England, 1651), Highland Rebel (Jacobite revolution, 1745), and Jade (pirates in Colonial Virginia and the Caribbean). Read more here about how Ms. Watson’s books and characters are all related to each other.

I read at least some of these books when I was a kid of a girl, and I loved them then, especially Jade, the story of Melanie Lennox who frees a cargo of slaves headed for Virginia and becomes a pirate queen. The only ones of Ms. Watson’s books that I own are The Hornet’s Nest and Lark. But if any of you have any of her books lying around gathering dust, I would be happy to take them off your hands.

Characteristics of Ms. Watson’s heroines: outspokenness, a passion for justice, courage, over-confidence to the point of foolhardiness. These rather willful girls, mostly girls, make for interesting, exciting, adventurous stories, and of course, that’s the best kind. If you run across any of Ms. Watson’s novels for young people, I recommend them—even the ones I haven’t read yet.

Playground by Mies Van Hout

Originally published in the Netherlands under the title Speeltuin, this visually rich and colorful picture book is fun to look through, if a little confusing. The pictures are stunning, busy, and lively. The plot is almost non-existent: two children travel through the pages of this colorful world on their way to The Playground. The reader is invited to “take an exciting trip through this book! Find the way with your finger. These red arrows on each page show you where to start and where to go next.”

Maybe I just don’t get it, but the arrows seem unnecessary. If a child reader wants to run his finger over the double page spreads of rather abstract landscapes, I can’t see how the arrow on the edge of each page helps. But the adventure in art is enticing, and as the two children collect animal friends on each page to accompany them on their journey, the illustrations become more and more imaginative. I can see how this book would inspire children to create their own artistic journey-scape.

The ending is . . . disappointing. Perhaps the author/illustrator is trying to show that the journey is more interesting than the destination, or maybe I’m reading too much into it. At any rate, I would let children explore this book on their own and see what they come up with. Maybe start them on the adventure with the invitation, “Let’s go to the playground! Are you coming?”, but the text, translated from the Dutch, is fairly basic and dull. In fact, I can see this one as a wordless book, and it might work better that way.

Enjoy the color. (Did I mention that the book is very colorful?)

Saturday Review of Books: May 14, 2016

“Literature can be the salve for a weary heart. I do not mean directly; I do not think literature is a form of therapy. I mean that books enable students to experience an extraordinary range of emotions in 180 days” ~Nick Ripatrazone

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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.