Sunday’s Hymn: Thy Mercy, My God

We sang this hymn this morning in church. The words were written by John Stocker and appeared in The Gospel Magazine in 1776 and then were later published by Daniel Sedgwick, a great British collector of hymns and a bookseller in the mid-nineteenth century. Sandra McCracken tells the story of how she discovered these old lyrics and wrote new music for them here.

Without Thy sweet mercy I could not live here;
Sin would reduce me to utter despair . . .

Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground,
And weep to the praise of the mercy I’’ve found.

The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal

The Lost Property Office, Baker Street Branch, in London is just a front for the secret Ministry of Trackers. And our hero, thirteen year old American boy Jack Buckles, finds out, by accident, that he is a Tracker, as was his father before him. Can Jack use his newfound tracking skills to find his father, who disappeared in London a few weeks ago without leaving a trace behind?

This fantasy adventure was exciting, but sometimes hard to follow. I almost wished for the movie version so that I could see the action, instead of trying to picture it myself from the descriptions in the book. If you’ve read this book I’d be curious to know whether you had the same problem. Maybe I just wasn’t a very good reader.

Jack teams up with a junior apprentice clerk named Gwen, and the two of them go off to save the world —and find Jack’s dad. The Macguffin is something called the Ember that may or may not have started the Great Fire of London back in 1666. So Gwen and Jack end up investigating the fire as well as looking for the Ember as well as attempting to rescue Jack’s dad. It’s all a little frustrating since Gwen is evasive and withholding of information. And Jack has just discovered his tracker abilities, which include being able to “spark” or see visions of the past by touching an object and channeling his thoughts into the history of that object. Jack is just learning to use his tracker talents, and Gwen is supposed to be helping him, but there’s a lot of stuff she’s not telling him.

I found Gwen’s “we’ll talk about that later” and “change the subject” when asked a direct question just as annoying as Jack did in the book. I wanted her to sit down and explain all about underground ministries and trackers and the number 13 and sparking all in one clear, concise speech, but I suppose that would have shortened the story considerably. At 387 pages, it could have afforded some cutting. I did like the historical aspects about the Great Fire and how it started.

Nevertheless, I recommend this book for fans of Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society or Jonathan Auxier’s Peter Nimble. It’s a good romp, and as I said, some of my issues may have been due to inattentive reading.

Oh, Were They Ever Happy by Peter Spier

This classic story of three children left “home alone” on a beautiful Saturday may be my favorite picture book of all time. It’s certainly in my top ten.

The story begins: “It happened on a Saturday morning that Mrs. Noonan said to her husband, ‘When are you going to paint the outside of the house? You’ve been talking about it for months!'”

Then Mr. and Mrs. Noonan leave for the day to run errands, telling the children to “behave themselves” and that the babysitter would be there shortly. “But the sitter never showed up.”

” . . . there was plenty of paint in the garage.”

You may think you can imagine what happens next, but unless you’ve seen this book with Mr. Spier’s wonderful illustrations, I can assure you that your imagination falls far short of the glorious picture book reality. The details in each illustration are so much fun to study, and the overall story—and the ending–are epic.

The plot of the story is similar to my other favorite Peter Spier title, Bored–Nothing To Do, but I love this one even better. It’s so colorful!

If you can find a copy of this picture book, I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, it’s out of print, and copies of the used paperback are selling for more than $10.00 online; the hardcover is more like $20.00+. Check your library, then used bookstore, either storefront or online.

New York Herald Tribune Spring Book Festival Awards

In 1937 two awards of $250 each were established by the New York Herald-Tribune for the best books for younger children and for older children published between January and June. In 1941 the system of awards was revised. Three awards, of $200.00 each, were given to the best books in the following three classes: young children, middle-age children, and other children. Each year a jury, composed of distinguished experts in the field of juvenile literature, was chosen to make the selections.

1937 Seven Simeons, by Boris Artzybasheff. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Viking.)

The Smuggler’s Sloop, by Robb White III. For older children. Illustrated by Andrew Wyeth. (Little.)

1938 The Hobbit, by J. R. Tolkien. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Houghton.)

The Iron Duke, by John R. Tunis. For older children. Illustrated by Johari Bull. (Harcourt)

1939 The Story of Horace, by Alice M. Coats. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Coward.)

The Hired Man’s Elephant, by Phil Stong. For older children. Illustrated by Doris Lee. (Dodd.)

1940 That Mario, by Lucy Herndon Crockett. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Holt)

Cap’n Ezra, Privateer, by James D. Adams. For older children. Illustrated by I. B. Hazelton. (Harcourt.)

1941 In My Mother’s House, by Ann Nolan Clark. For younger children. Illustrated by Velino Herrera. (Viking.)

Pete by Tom Robinson. For middle-age children. Illustrated by Morgan Dennis. (Viking.)

Clara Barton, by Mildren Mastin Pace. For older children. (Scribner.)

1942 Mr. Tootwhistle’s Invention, by Peter Wells. For younger children.
Illustrated by the author. (Winston.)

I Have Just Begun to Fight: The Story of John Paul Jones, by
Commander Edward Ellsberg. For middle-age children. Illustrated
by Gerald Foster. (Dodd.)

None But the Brave, by Rosamond Van der Zee Marshall. For
older children. Illustrated by Gregor Duncan. (Houghton.)

1943 Five Golden Wrens, by Hugh Troy. For younger children. Illus-
trated by the author. (Oxford.)

These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. For middle-
age children. Illustrated by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle.

Patterns on the Wall, by Elizabeth Yates. For older children.

1944 A Ring and a Riddle, by M. Ilm and E. Segal. For younger children.
Illustrated by Vera Bock. (Lippincott)

They Put Out to Sea, by Roger Duvoisln. For middle-age children.
Illustrated by the author. (Knopf.)

Storm Canvas, by Armstrong Sperry, For older children. Illustrated
by the author. (Winston.)

1945 Little People in a Big Country, by Norma Cohn. For younger children. Illustrated by Tashkent Children’s Art Training Center in Soviet Uzbekistan. (Oxford.)

Gulf Stream by Ruth Brindze. Illustrated by Helene Carter. For middle-age children., (Vanguard.)

Sandy, by Elizabeth Janet Gray. For older children. (Viking.)

1946 Farm Stories. Award divided between Gustaf Tenggren, illustrator, and Kathryn and Byron Jackson, authors. For younger children. (Simon & Schuster.)

The Thirteenth Stone, by Jean Bothwell, illustrated by Margaret Ayer. For middle-age children. (Harcourt)

The Quest of the Golden Condor, by Clayton Knight. Illustrated by the author. For older children. (Knopf.)

Other than The Hobbit and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years, has anyone read or reviewed any of these prize-winning books? I know of the authors Jean Bothwell, Elizabeth Janet Grey, Armstrong Sperry, Roger Duvoisin, Elizabeth Yates, John Tunis, and Ann Nolan Clark, but not these particular books of theirs.

More Books Set in or About the Late Eighteenth Century

Annals of the Parish: or The Chronicle of Dalmailing During the Ministry of the Rev. Micah Balwhidder by John Galt. Published in 1821, this is a fictional account of the trials and joys of the life of Reverend Balwhidder of Dalmailing, Scotland in the latter half of the eighteenth century.

Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London by Susan Tyler Hitchcock. Mary Lamb, with her brother, the essayist Charles Lamb, collaborated on the famous Tales from Shakespeare. She also murdered her mother with a kitchen knife in a fit of madness, possibly a manic phase of bipolar mental illness.

Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary by Henry Hitchings.

Hallelujah by J.S. Featherstone. Hallelujah is the fictionalized story of one of the greatest events in musical history, the creation in 1741 of George Frederic Handel’s masterpiece, Messiah.

The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson. Set in Scotland during the Jacobite Revolution of 1745 and its aftermath.

The Mississippi Bubble by Thomas B. Costain. A land confidence scheme set in France and colonial America.

A Daughter Of The Seine: The Life Of Madame Roland by Jeanette Eaton. Newbery honor book.

Meggy MacIntosh: A Highland Girl in the Carolina Colony by Elizabeth Gray Vining.

The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature’s Greatest Monsters by Andrew Stott.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. French revolution fiction.

Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C. S. Lewis by John Piper.

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas S. Kidd.

Up the Trail from Texas by J. Frank Dobie

Texas Tuesday.

This book, published in 1955, is one of the Landmark History series from Random House. The publisher had a policy of hiring the best writers, award winning authors and experts in history and in particular historical eras and events, to write these books, and it shows. J. Frank Dobie was a journalist and a rancher and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin for many years. He was instrumental in saving the Texas Longhorn from extinction. He wrote over twenty books about the history, folklore, and traditions of Texas. If anyone was qualified to write a Landmark history book about the history of the cattle, cowboys, and trail drives of Texas, it was Mr. Dobie.

And Up the Trail from Texas is certainly a well-written, exciting nonfiction compilation of the stories of various cowmen, trail bosses, and cowboys that Mr. Dobie interviewed personally, along with information about the real life of a trail driving cowboy and the logistics and work of a trail drive from Texas to the northern cattle markets in Kansas or Nebraska or Montana. Read about drouths, blizzards, lightning, and floods, encounters with the Comanche and other Indians, and about the jobs the cowboys were expected to perform. Dobie’s writing especially shine when he is recounting the stories that the cowmen told him, many of them recalling in old age their youthful exploits and adventures on the cattle trail.

I remember when I was a kid of a girl watching Clint Eastwood as drover Rowdy Yates in the early 1960’s TV series, Rawhide. I think the writers of Rawhide must have read Mr. Dobie’s books, especially this one. If I were teaching a unit on the cowboys and trail drives of the 1860’s, I’d read a couple chapters of Up the Trail from Texas to my students each day until we finished the book, and then I’d let them watch a few episodes of Rawhide.

Keep movin’, movin’, movin’,
Though they’re disapprovin’,
Keep them dogies movin’, rawhide.
Don’t try to understand ’em,
Just rope ’em, throw, and brand ’em.
Soon we’ll be livin’ high and wide.
My heart’s calculatin’,
My true love will be waitin’,
Be waitin’ at the end of my ride.
Move ’em on, head ’em up,
Head ’em up, move ’em on,
Move ’em on, head ’em up, rawhide!
Head ’em out, ride ’em in,
Ride ’em in, let ’em out,
Cut ’em out, ride ’em in, rawhide!

At the end of each episode, trail boss Gil Favor would call out, “Head’em up! Move’em out!”

Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

“The material world is not just a display of our technology and culture, it is part of us. We invented it, we made it, and in turn it makes us who we are.” Introduction to Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

Last night I went to a lecture at a local university with Eldest Daughter. The title of the lecture was “Modernity and the Rise of the Technological Society,” and the featured speaker told us, among other things, that our technology and the type of thought required to make and maintain it were changing us into humans with an incapacity to think deeply about the technology and its effects on us. Or something like that. What I got out of Dr. Hanby’s (the speaker’s) remarks was that he believes that we are being shaped and blinded or limited in our thinking by the very technology that we made to serve us and free us. We think that our technological society has made us more free, but we don’t really know what freedom is anymore, and we are too caught up in technological innovation to even be able to think about what true freedom might look like.

Anyway, this morning at the library I found this book that I had requested on the hold shelf. I’m only reading the introduction, but Mr. Miodownik seems to be saying something similar to what Dr. Michael Hanby, the speaker last night, was saying. Only, it looks as if perhaps Mr. Miodownik might think that all these “materials” and “technology” are changing us for the better–that it’s OK that technology has become to some extent our master rather than our servant. I’ll be back after I read the book to let you know what I think.


Unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish the book before I had to return it to the library, and I’m still not sure what I think about technology changing us for the better or for the worse. What do you think?

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

Neuroblastoma. Cancer. These are scary words for grown-ups and for children. Counting Thyme is a story about how a five year old brother’s cancer affects a family and changes the members of the family and eventually how those changes make them stronger and more bonded. (Of course, a crisis can tear a family apart, but in this story, in spite of realistic and ongoing struggles and misunderstandings, the family members grow in love and empathy for one another.)

Eleven year old Thyme, the main character, is deeply concerned for her little brother, Val, who is undergoing treatment for neuroblastoma, nerve cancer. She would give almost anything for him to get well again, but she doesn’t really understand why her family has to move from California to New York City for Val to get well. Thyme’s parents are well meaning, but totally absorbed in supporting and caring for Val, and they don’t want to tell Thyme and her older sister Coriander (yes, cute names) too much about what is happening with Val so that the girls won’t worry too much. Of course, Thyme and Cori do worry a lot, and each girl has to find a way to deal with the move and with all the tension at home as they acclimate to a new city and to new schools.

There is a pre-teen “romance” in the book, but it’s handled tastefully and innocently. Thyme has a crush on a boy in her new school, and the two children get to know each other and eventually become friends. One innocent peck on the cheek and some blushing and gushy feelings make up the rest of the relationship, but if that’s too much for your middle grade reader, you’ll want to skip this one.

If you do skip it, sad to say, you’ll miss out on a slow, heartfelt story about adjusting to harsh realities and learning to give and receive love and concern from your family even when times are hard. The family interactions are very real and tender, and so are the friendships that Thyme had to leave behind and the ones she forms in her new city. Thyme herself is something of an introvert, self-contained, but confident and empathetic, especially when it comes to helping cheer or distract Val when he’s having a bad day. And Val is the cutest little cancer patient I’ve ever met, maybe a little too good to be true, but so likable and sweet.

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

Gertie deserves a place alongside Clementine and Ramona Quimby as one of the spunkiest and most adventuresome of girl characters in middle grade fiction. She comes across as a little immature for her ten years of age, but if she’s a bit sheltered and innocent, it just means that her aunt and her father have done an excellent job of raising her after her mother deserted the family.

Gertie Reece Foy is always on a mission, but her mission for fifth grade is to be the greatest fifth grader ever so that her mother, whom Gertie has never even met, will be impressed and wish that she had paid more attention to Gertie Foy. Gertie’s two best friends, Jean the Jean-ius and Junior, help, mostly, and hinder her on her mission. And Mary Sue Spivey, the new girl from Los Angeles, is the fly in the ointment, so to speak. Can Gertie be the best when Mary Sue so easily steals the popularity (not to mention Gertie’s seat!) that Gertie longs for?

One thing about Gertie Reece Foy: she never, ever gives up. And reading about exactly how Gertie doesn’t give up, how she keeps pursuing her mission, despite environmental concerns about her daddy’s oil rig job and Mary Sue’s conniving, is a delight and a wonder. Gertie certainly does “give’em h—“, just as her great-aunt tells her to every morning as Gertie leaves for school.

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12 Eighteenth Century Classics I Hope to Read

In addition to reading historical fiction and biographies, I’d like to read some of the classics that were “making waves” in the late eighteenth century/early nineteenth century. These are more difficult for me to get through, but also potentially more rewarding.

A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton by Jonathan Edwards. (1737)
Hymns and Sacred Songs by Charles and John Wesley (1739).
A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. (1746)
The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards. (1749)
A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards (contained in John Piper’s book, God’s Passion for His Glory.)
Common Sense (1776) by Thomas Paine.
Evelina by Fanny Burney.
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.(1787)
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake. (1790)
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft.
Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge (1798).
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. (re-read, written before 1796, published in 1811)