Amos and the Moon by Jan Balet

Jan Balet “was a German/US-American painter, graphic artist and illustrator. Affected by the style naive art he worked particularly as a graphic artist and as an Illustrator of children’s books. Besides this he painted pictures in the style of naive art. Referred to as a “naïve” painter, his works exhibit a dry wit and refreshingly candid, satirical view of life.” ~Wikipedia, Jan Balet.

Amos and the Moon by Jan Balet was first published in 1948. The AMMO Books reprint edition that I received for review is certainly a lovely re-gift to today’s children from the golden age of children’s literature. The story is reminiscent of James Thurber’s Many Moons, which won a Caldecott Medal in 1944. In Thurber’s story, the ailing Princess Lenore wants the moon, and her father, the king, directs various servants and courtiers to get it for her. In Balet’s picture book, Amos sees the moon in his mirror, believes it belongs to him, and goes out to find it himself when it disappears the next day. Various vendors and storekeepers give him gifts–a piece of ice, a horse, a watch, a moon-shaped cookie—- as he searches, but none of his friends can give Amos “his moon”. Finally, Joe Ming, the Chinese laundryman, wisely tells Amos, “No one has the moon always–just once in a while.”

It’s a gentle, old-fashioned kind of story, and the illustrations are delightful. Mr. Balet was first and foremost an artist, and the pictures of the various shops that Amos visits in search of his moon will interest and appeal to anyone, young or old, who is inspired by detailed scenes, exquisitely rendered. The illustrations sort of remind me of Norman Rockwell or Currier and Ives or even the Impressionists like Manet, but Balet has his own style and subject matter. There is a European feel to the story and to the pictures, perhaps because of the many immigrants and ethnic groups that Amos encounters on his quest, even though the story is obviously set in an English-speaking, probably American, city.

AMMO Books has reprinted another of Balet’s picture books, The Five Rollatinis, which is a circus story and a counting book combined. Some of his other books, both those he illustrated that were written by other authors and those he wrote himself, are available on Amazon used. I really appreciate the publishers who find these old, treasured titles and bring them back into print for a new generation.

The Lark in the Morn by Elfrida Vipont

Jane Kitson Haverard, “Kit”, is the youngest child in a Quaker family in England in the late 1940’s, perhaps. Her mother has died before the opening of the novel, and her older cousin Laura Haverard is the mother-figure in her family, helping Jane’s professor father to raise and care for his family. The Lark in the Morn is a coming of age novel, a school story, and a book about finding your own identity and using your own talents.

This book reminded me of Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin family novels or or other good family/boarding school novels published in the fifties or sixties. Kit doesn’t attend a boarding school, but her school life, family relationships, and vacation life are central to the novel and are chronicled in a lively and engaging manner. Kit is a likable protagonist, although confused about her own identity and giftedness. She struggles with peer pressure and with her guardian’s misunderstanding of Kit’s personality and gifts. She doesn’t know for most of the novel what she really wants to do with her life, nor does she realize her own interests and abilities until she is helped along the way by a number of mentors and adult friends. The real theme of the novel is this journey of self-discovery that Kit travels and her becoming her own person as she grows up and understands herself and her relation to the world and its many choices and possibilities.

So, it’s not a new theme for a middle grade novel, and it wasn’t fresh or novel even in 1948 when Vipont’s story was first published. Nevertheless, Kit is a fresh and vibrant young lady with a healthy outlook upon the world she lives in and a desire to be independent and self-actualizing without giving offense or hurting those who have raised her and given her nurture and a foundation, if not always understanding or encouragement in developing her talents. Kit finds the encouragement and the musical education she needs with other extended family members and from teachers at school.

Elfrida Vipont was a British author, schoolteacher, and member of the Society of Friends (Quakers). She began writing children’s books in the late 1930’s, specifically books with Quaker characters and some published for boys under the pseudonym of Charles Vipont. She won the Carnegie Medal in 1950 for Lark on the Wing, a sequel to Lark in the Morn. I hope to borrow or purchase a copy of the further adventures of Kit Haverard soon. There are supposed to be five books in the Lark series, but I can’t find a definitive list of the exact titles that make up the series. Goodreads lists the following books:

The Lark in the Morn (The Haverard Family, #1)
The Lark on the Wing (The Haverard Family, #2)
The Spring of the Year (The Haverard Family, #3)
Flowering Spring (The Haverard Family, #4)
The Pavilion (The Haverard Family, #5)

Ms. Vipont was a prolific author, publishing historical books about Quakerism, adventure stories for boys, the series of Lark books, other novel for girls, a well-known picture book called The Elephant and the Bad Baby, and biographies of several women authors such as Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot. I look forward to enjoying more of her books, although they are somewhat difficult to find in the U.S.

Christmas in Alaska, 1948

From The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill:

“When it was Christmastime, we had a tree in the school. . . We put popcorn strings on it and little chains made of green and red paper. That tree looked just beautiful.

It was supposed to have candles on it, but Miss Agnes said that spruce was too dry, the needles just falling off with a little sprinkling sound when you walked by it. We might set it on fire if we put candles on it.

Miss Agnes showed us some Christmas pictures from other countries, and those Christmas trees were just fat. Different from our skinny little trees. Our little skinny tree branches couldn’t even hold a candle, I don’t think.

Miss Agnes taught us a whole bunch of Christmas songs. Some we knew from the radio already. And we put on a play.”

Miss Agnes is the new teacher in a small Athabascan village in Alaska, and the narrator of the story is ten year old Fred, one of her pupils in the one-room schoolhouse. This 113 page book would make a good read aloud story for younger children or a good independent reading book for those who are confident enough to start reading chapter books by themselves. It’s a lovely story about a very special teacher, and the Christmas celebration that Miss Agnes has with her pupils and their parents is especially fun to read about.

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1948: Events and Inventions

January 30, 1948. Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi is assassinated by a fanatical Hindu man while Gandhi is a prayer meeting in New Delhi. All India mourns.

February 25, 1948. Communists seize power in Czechoslovakia.

'LP Album' photo (c) 2009, Andres Rueda - license: 14, 1948. Jewish leaders Chaim Weitzmann and David Ben-Gurion declare the independence of the new Jewish state of Israel.

June 23, 1948. The Soviet Union blockades road and rail links to the city of Berlin located inside the Soviet zone of Germany. On June 30, U.S. planes, carrying supplies for besieged Berlin, land in the city delivering 2500 tons of much-needed food.

June, 1948. Columbia Records introduces the first long-playing commercial vinyl records.

July 1, 1948. Yugoslav Communist Marshal Tito provokes the Soviet Union into expelling Yugoslavia from the Cominform (the international organization of communist parties) in Tito’s determination to remain independent from Soviet control.

'velcro and fabric' photo (c) 2008, Shannon Clark - license:, 1948. The Republic of South Korea is proclaimed in Seoul with Syngham Rhee as president.

September, 1948. Communist leader Kim Il Sung proclaims the People’s Republic of North Korea in Pyongyang.

October 22, 1948. Chester Carlson and Haloid Corporation announce the invention of “xerography”, electrophotography. Haloid Corp. will change its name later to Xerox Corp., and it will be 1960 before the first commercial automatic copier is released by Xerox.

December, 1948. In Switzerland, Georges de Mestral invents Velcro, a new clothes fastener.

100 Movies of Summer: Red River (1948)

Directors: Howard Hawks and Arthur Rosson
Writers: Borden Chase and Charles Schnee
Starring: John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, and Walter Brennan

Karate Kid says: This movie was about some cowboys on a cattle drive. They live next to the Red River, which is the river that makes up the border between Texas and Oklahoma. They owned the Red River Ranch, and decided to take their cattle to somewhere they could sell it. On their way, they will have a stampede, an ambush, and even a mutiny!

Mom says: I liked this one better than I did The Searchers, but the ending was lame. The writers were drawing on the imagery of herd behavior in which dominant males fight for leadership of the group. There are two young “bucks” on the cattle drive, Matt and Cherry. Then, there’s Dunson, the old but strong leader of the drive, who is also conservative and set in his ways and determined to be obeyed and feared, no matter what the cost. The tension between these three, but mostly between Matt and Dunson, who is Matt’s mentor and father figure, makes the movie go. But then, at the end, although Matt’s love interest, Tess Millay, has a great scene in which she tells them both off for acting like idiots, the tension just sort of drains off into anti-climax.

Still, it’s a good movie to watch with your kids if you’re learning about the cattle drive/cowboy era of U.S. history or if you just like cowboy movies. Dunson shoots or threatens to shoot a few men in cold blood basically for just getting in his way or challenging his authority, and that part was rather shocking to my youngest (and to me). The stereotype of savage Native Americans was still there, but not as prominent as it was in The Searchers. In Red RIver, the Indians are not characters, and the Indian attack is just a plot device to place another obstacle in the way of the cattle drive and give the hero a chance to be heroic. The one Native American character who is on the cattle drive with the cowboys is a part of the comic relief, not very believable or interesting.

IMDB link to Red River.
Buy Red River on Amazon.

Christmas in Switzerland, 1948

“On Christmas Eve Georges Laurens stirred himself from his books and they all went out and climbed up the mountain and brought home a beautiful Christmas tree. Flip and Paul had been making the decorations in the evenings after dinner, chains of brightly colored paper, strings of berries and small rolled balls of tinfoil, and Flip had carefully painted and pasted on cardboard twenty delicate angels with feathery wings and a stable scene with Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus, the kings and shepherds and all the animals who gathered close to keep the baby warm. When the tree was trimmed they sang carols, ending up with The Twelve Days of Christmas. Paul took Flip’s hand and threw back his head and sang.

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love sent to me:
Twelve drummers drumming
Eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a-leaping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming
Six geese a-laying
Five golden rings
Four calling birds
Three french hens
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree!”

~And Both Were Young by Madeleine L’Engle