Christmas in Toronto, Canada, c.1937

Jane of Lantern Hill is one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s lesser-known stories. (Ms. Montgomery is, of course, the author of the Anne of Green Gables books as wells the series about Emily of New Moon.) Jane of Lantern Hill tells the story of a girl, Victoria Jane Stuart, who finds out at the age of ten that her father is not dead as she had presumed, and soon after that Jane is compelled to go and visit for the summer with the father she never knew on Prince Edward Island.

This Christmas passage comes from late in the story when Jane is back in Toronto but has grown to know and love her estranged father very much:

The week before Christmas Jane bought the materials for a fruit-cake out of the money dad had given her and compounded it in the kitchen. Then she expressed it to dad.She did not ask anyone’s permission for all this—just went ahead and did it. Mary held her tongue and grandmother knew nothing about it. But Jane would have sent it just the same if she had.
One thing made Christmas Day memorable for Jane that year. Just after breakfast Frank came in to say that long distance was calling Miss Victoria. Jane went to the hall with a puzzled look . . . who on earth could be calling her on long distance? She lifted the receiver to her ear.
“Lantern Hill calling Superior Jane! Merry Christmas and thanks for that cake,” said dad’s voice as distinctly as if he were in the same room.
“Dad!” Jane gasped. “Where are you?”
“Here at Lantern Hill. This is my Christmas present to you, Janelet. Three minutes over a thousand miles.”
Probably no two people ever crammed more into three minutes. When Jane went back to the dining room, her cheeks were crimson and her eyes glowed like jewels.

I do think that perhaps this L.M. Montgomery book, one I don’t remember ever reading, will be my first read of 2018. Skimming it was a delight, and I’m fairly sure that reading the story properly will be quite a good way to start the new year.

I wish my copy were this Virago edition. I love the cover on edition pictured above.

Baker’s Dozen: Books to Read for my Around the World Project

I’m planning a new project for 2016, an expansion of my Africa Project. This one is an around the world project in which I hope to read at least one children’s book from or related to each nation of the world. Some countries are easier than others to find books, available in English and written by a citizen of that country. I may have to settle for folktales retold by American or Births authors from some countries or even for books that are simply set in the target country, preferably written by someone who has at least visited the particular setting in the book.

So, here is the page for my Around the World Reading Project. Do you have any suggestions to add to my project list, especially for those countries for which I have no books listed? The books must be for children, available in English (translation or original) in the United States, and preferably written in and popular in the country of origin.

Here are thirteen of the books I already chose that I am planning to read this year:

Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall. (Australia)

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. (Canada)

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. (Finland)

The Horse Without a Head by Paul Berna. (France)

The Adventures of Maya the Bee by Waldemar Bonsels, 1912. (Germany)

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. (India)

The Shadow of Ghadames by Joelle Stolz. (Libya)

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer. (American author) (Mozambique)

The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt. (Netherlands)

Platero y yo by Juan Jimenez. (Spain)

The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren. (Sweden)

Go Ahead, Secret Seven by Enid Blyton. (England)

Jamela’s Dress by Niki Daly. (South Africa)

I chose these particular books from the list mostly because I have them or have access to them. Have you read any of them? Any recommended or not?

Happy Canada Day!

July 1 is Canada Day. Here are some suggestions, mostly fiction, if you’re ready to celebrate with a good book:

Picture Books:

Bannatyne-Cugnet, Jo. A Prairie Alphabet. Illustrated by Yvette Moore.
Carney, Margaret. At Grandpa’s Sugar Bush. Illustrated by Janet Wilson.
Carrier, Roch. The Hockey Sweater. Illustrated by Sheldon Cohen.
Gay, Marie-Louise. Stella, Queen of the Snow. Illus. Groundwood, 2000.
Ellis, Sarah. Next Stop! Illus. by Ruth Ohi. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2000.
Harrison, Ted. A Northern Alphabet.
Kurelek, William. A Prairie Boy’s Winter.
Kurelek, William. A Prairie Boy’s Summer.
McFarlane, Sheryl. Jessie’s Island. Illustrated by Sheena Lott. Orca Book Publishers, 2005.
Service, Robert. The Cremation of Sam McGee. Illustrated by Ted Harrison.

Children’s Fiction:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, of course and all its sequels. Essential Canadiana.
Our Canadian Girl and Dear Canada series.
Burnford, Sheila. The Incredible Journey.
Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton.
Semicolon review here.
Hobbs, Will. Far North.
Mowat, Farley. Lost in the Barrens.
Mowat, Farley. Owls in the Family.
Stanbridge, Joanne. The Leftover Kid. Northern Lights, 1997.

YA and Adult Fiction:

Craven, Margaret. I Heard the Owl Call My Name.
Freedman, Benedict and Nancy. Mrs. Mike.
Mitchell, W.O. Who Has Seen the Wind?
Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet.

Evangeline and the Acadians by Robert Tallant.
Canadian history series by Thomas Costain. Although I haven’t read this series of books, Costain is one of my favorite authors of narrative nonfiction. There are six books in the series, and the first is called The White and the Gold.

I haven’t read all of the books on this list, but I plan to, whenever I can manage to find time for a Canada Project. Titles in bold print are available from Meriadoc Homeschool Library.

More Canadian books, mostly for kids by Becky at Farm School.

Celebrating Literary Canada at Chasing Ray in 2008.

Any more Canadian book suggestions?

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Trains. Well, really, one l–o–n–g train that’s so long that it might as well be a traveling city on wheels. This train, The Boundless, has everything: 1st class accommodations, a library, dining cars, observation deck, a cinema, a billiard room, stores, second class passenger cars, freight cars, third class for the penny-pinching or poverty stricken traveler, and even a circus!

The Boundless is a world to itself, inside a literary world that includes sasquatch, a mesmerist, a steam-powered automaton bartender, treasure, and a weeping hag who induces people to commit suicide (no one dies except expendable redshirt bad guys). The last element, the hag, may be a little much for some younger readers, but it somehow wasn’t terribly scary to me. And I’m not a fan of scary.

Anyway, The Boundless takes place in an alternate steampunk North American continent, and most of the action happens on the train. the train. I loved the train. I want someone to draw me a picture of the train, car by car. Or, even better, I want to ride on the train all the way across the country and experience each part of this marvelous magical train myself. (I wonder if in heaven the good things we imagine can become real and be experienced through eternity? Jesus and I could have a lot of fun exploring The Boundless, without all of the bad guys and hags and thieves.)

Will Everett is our humble hero who grows into a self-assured young man by the end of the story. The only thing I didn’t like about the story was the tired old theme of “follow your dream.” Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Will wants to be an artist while his father insists that he do something more practical with his life. If you want to know why I think that “follow your dream” is a stupid theme to be drilling into kids in every other book they read, not to mention the idea that parents are a bunch of spoilsports with no wisdom to be imparted, then watch this TED talk by Mike Rowe, host of the TV show Dirty Jobs (which I’ve never seen, but I like his perspective on the value and dignity of work in this video).

So I just pretended that the simplistic Disney-esque follow-your-dream parts weren’t there, and I enjoyed the train and the adventure and the Picture of Dorian Gray subplot.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

The 8th Gift of Christmas on Prince Edward Island, c.1877

Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world. It had been a very mild December and people had looked forward to a green Christmas; but just enough snow fell softly in the night to transfigure Avonlea. Anne peeped out from her frosted gable window with delighted eyes. The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the plowed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious. Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice reechoed through Green Gables.
“Merry Christmas, Marilla! Merry Christmas, Matthew! Isn’t it a lovely Christmas? I’m so glad it’s white. Any other kind of Christmas doesn’t seem real, does it? I don’t like green Christmases. They’re not green– they’re just nasty faded browns and grays. What makes people call them green? Why–why–Matthew, is that for me? Oh, Matthew!”
Matthew had sheepishly unfolded the dress from its paper swathings and held it out with a deprecatory glance at Marilla, who feigned to be contemptuously filling the teapot, but nevertheless watched the scene out of the corner of her eye with a rather interested air.
Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was–a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves–they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon.
“That’s a Christmas present for you, Anne,” said Matthew shyly. “Why–why–Anne, don’t you like it? Well now–well now.”
For Anne’s eyes had suddenly filled with tears.
~Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song: Be Still My Soul, music by Jean Sibelius.

A booklist: Feels Like Home: 101 Chapter Books to Read Before You Grow Up.

A birthday: Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, b.1865.

A poem: Jest ‘Fore Christmas by Eugene Field.

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny: Detectives Extraordinaire! by Mrs. Bunny

Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath.

This particular book is a tricksy one. I was expecting talking animals, something along the lines of Rabbit Hill or maybe Charlotte’s Web, and I got a hilarious tale about a couple of ridiculous, bickering, married rabbits who “adopt” the neglected daughter of leftover hippy parents who are, in turn, kidnapped by foxes.

Madeline is the girl, and she is a sort of Alice in Wonderland character, a very responsible daughter who takes care of her less-than-brainy parents and finds herself in a fantastical predicament. When said parents, Mildred and Flo, are kidnapped by some nefarious foxes who say MUAHAHA a lot, Madeline must find and rescue them. But the only help she can get is from Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who have just bought fedoras and are attempting to solve their first case as amateur detectives.

The resulting mis-adventure is a lovely romp through Rabbit-land and the woods and valleys of Vancouver Island, British Columbia with several running gags. There are repeated references to learning languages and communication difficulties as Flo tries to learn fox language from his captors, and Madeline decides she’s a Bunny Whisperer because she understands rabbit. Mr. and Mrs. Bunny compete with one another for who can be the most clueless, aimless, and scatterbrained detective in Rabbit-land. Then, there’s The Marmot, whose first name is The, and who has a passion for garlic bread. The Marmot is even more foolish and brainless than Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Flo and Mildred and all the foxes put together.

I think with humor and comedy you always run the risk that some of your readers just won’t get the joke or won’t have the same sense of humor that you do. I saw some reviews at Amazon that criticized this book for using the word “crap” and for making fun of New Agers and the British royal family, among others. (Prince Charles does make a cameo appearance in the final chapters, and he comes off rather well as a reassuring adult character, actually.) All I can say is that this story tickled my funny bone in just the right places, and I was only sorry to see it end.

Briefly Noted: Cybils Nominees

Max Cassidy: Escape from Shadow Island by Paul Adam. Set in England and in the fictional Central American nation of Santo Domingo, this thriller/detective story features fourteen year old escapologist Max Cassidy. Max is a typical fourteen year old, except that he performs Houdini-like feats of escape and magic and he’s determined to effect his mother’s release from prison where she is being held for the murder of his father. Is Max’s father really dead? Can Max prove that his mother is innocent? Will ma be able to escape from notorious Shadow Island? This one skews older; maybe 12-15 year olds will enjoy it. The book starts off with a murder, and although it’s not very scary, it would make a good introduction to the crime fiction genre. Unfortunately, this book is one of those beginning-of-a-series books, and I can’t tell when the second book will be published.
The Max Cassidy Fact File.

Grease Town by Ann Towell. O Canada! This entry from our neighbors to the north confused me at first. Because of the photo on the cover, I thought the narrator, Titus Sullivan and his brother Lemuel, were black. But it turns out that Titus and Lemuel are white Canadians living at the time of the U.S. Civil War, and when they go to Oil Springs, Ontario to work in the oil fields, Titus meets a black boy named Moses. The two become friends, but not everyone in Oil Springs is pleased about living and working side by side with black people, most of whom are former slaves from the United States. Titus is a talkative young man and a brave one, but when tragedy strikes, it takes Titus’s voice away and threatens to take his courage and his reason, too. This one would pair well with Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, also about escaped slaves living in Canada. (Semicolon review here)

My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjan. Kind of a Wimpy Kid wannabe. Derek is looking forward to a summer with no school and lots of fun, but his teacher is forcing him to do summer reading! I give the book points for not having Derek predictably and magically turn into a book lover as he struggles to complete his summer reading assignment, and the mystery subplot is interesting, even if the solution is somewhat unsurprising. Reluctant readers who have read all of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series might find this one an acceptable follow-up.

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne. Hamlet Kennedy’s family loves Shakespeare. Her parents teach Shakespeare at the local college, dress up like Elizabethans, live Shakespeare, breathe Shakespeare. Hamlet, despite her name, is not so passionate about Shakespeare. Then, when her little sister Desdemona the seven year old genius, joins Hamlet in middle school, Hamlet realizes that her life is about to become a total tragedy.
I would have expected to love this one since I’m something of a Shakespeare geek myself, but I just liked it. Hamlet’s woes fall fall short of tragedy, but her reaction to the embarrassment of having a family that’s far from average seems typically middle school-ish. Maybe that’s what left me a little cold; I’d prefer a character who’s not afraid to be different.