The Tune Is in the Tree by Maud Hart Lovelace

In the several boxes of discarded books from a local private school library that a friend rescued on their way to the dumpster, I discovered some real gems—in more ways than one. The Tune Is in the Tree is one of Maud Hart Lovelace’s other novels, not about Betsy Ray and her friends Tacy and Tib. However, in the book Betsy’s Wedding, Betsy says, “I think I’ll write a story about a little girl going to live with the birds.” It’s not too much of a stretch to think that perhaps The Tune Is in the Tree is Betsy’s story, fleshed out by Ms. Lovelace herself, especially since Ms. Lovelace wrote that The Tune Is in the Tree is “just the sort of a story Betsy used to tell to Tacy.”

In this 177-page fantasy, Annie Jo, who lives with her parents Jo and Annie, gets left alone by mistake, and Mr. and Mrs. Robin feel compelled to take her into their nest until her mother and father return home. For that plan to work, Annie Jo must become a lot smaller, and she needs a pair of wings, both of which are provided for by courtesy of Miss Ruby Hummingbird, who happens to be have a little Magic. After Annie Jo shrinks and gets her wings, she learns all about the birds of the meadow and forest, including the Thrush family, Mr. and Mrs Catbird, the Misses Oriole, and the Perfidious Mrs. Cowbird who causes trouble all over by laying her eggs in other birds’ nests.

This jewel is such a lovely and funny story, and the illustrations by Eloise Wilkin are a perfect match to the story. The book was first published in 1950, in the middle of the time period during which Ms. Lovelace was busily writing and having published the Betsy-Tacy books. I like to think of Ms. Lovelace taking a break from the adventures of Betsy and her friends to write this homage to the world of birds. The child who is interested in bird-lore could learn a lot from reading or listening to The Tune Is in the Tree. The birds in the story are fantasy birds who talk and practice their concerts and even bake cookies (the Ovenbird family). However, the birds actually do embody some of the characteristics of real birds. Thrushes do make beautiful music. Ovenbirds do have nests shape like little ovens, hence the name. And the Perfidious Cowbird really does lay its eggs in the nests of other birds.

Then, there’s the poetry, both the poetry of Ms. Lovelace’s luscious prose and the poetry she makes reference to in the course of the story. Emily Dickinson, Robert Lowell, and John Keats are all invoked as the birds keep their libraries in the Brook which “reads aloud all day.”

“And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
~As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Unfortunately, The Tune Is in the Tree is a book not to be found in either trees or brooks. I looked it up on Amazon, and used copies are priced at anywhere between $200 and $800. I don’t plan to sell my newly discovered treasure, but patrons of my library can borrow it and enjoy a wonderful tale.

Christmas in Florida, 1950

From the book, The Seminole Indians by Sonia Bleeker:

Seminole woman reading at Big Cypress Reservaton from Flickr via Wylio
© 1958 Florida Memory, Flickr | PD | via Wylio

“Florida, of course, does not have a white Christmas. Usually Christmas Day is bright and warm. Everywhere among the Seminole settlements Christmas trees stand gaily next to the open chickees, their bulbs glittering in the warm sun. Everyone rises early, even though men, women, and children have been up late on Christmas Eve enjoying family reunions and gossip.

Before the holiday, the little sewing machine on the floor of each chickee throughout the settlements and reservations has been going full blast. The mother, or a little girl by her side, cranks the handle of the machine hour after hour, stitching yards and yards of bright-colored strips of cotton cloth. The Seminole have an excellent eye for arranging colors. They combine red and blue with yellow green, orange, deep red, rose, purple, and white. The colors are not thrown together at random. They follow a set pattern, and the Seminole women are extremely clever in designing artistic color combinations. Each strip has a different design; in some, the bright colors make a zigzag pattern. The mother sews and fits these strips into skirts for herself and her daughter and shirts for husband and son. Now gay new clothes are ready for the holidays. By Christmas Eve the sewing machines are all covered and will remain idle until after the New Year. Everyone is dressed in his best clothes.”

Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith

Aidan and his best friend, Louis, live in Florida near Cape Canaveral. Aidan’s parents own The Mercury Inn, a seaside hotel, and they are known for their launch parties, where residents of the inn can watch a NASA spacecraft launch from the swimming pool area or even the beach nearby. However, when a possible UFO disrupts the launch, Aidan and Louis discover that space aliens may be actually living at the Mercury Inn!

If you’re a UFO conspiracy theorist, and if the names “Roswell” and “Project Blue Book” and “SETI” mean something to you, then you might enjoy this light story of UFO-mania and space alien visitation. Then again, if you’re a real UFOlogist, you might think this book treats the subject with insufficient gravitas.

At any rate, it’s an easy read, with a couple of twists at the end. Everyone should have a little UFO in their life.

Warning: Rabbit Trail or Side Note

In the meantime, while looking for UFO and space alien pictures, I found various and sundry speculations on what is called the Fermi Paradox (after a discussion that physicist Enrico Fermi had with other scientists back in 1950 at Los Alamos):

-The Sun is a typical star, and relatively young. There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are billions of years older.
-Almost surely, some of these stars will have Earth-like planets. Assuming the Earth is typical, some of these planets may develop intelligent life.
-Some of these civilizations may develop interstellar travel, a technology Earth is investigating even now (such as the 100 Year Starship).
-Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the galaxy can be completely colonized in a few tens of millions of years.
According to this line of thinking, the Earth should already have been colonized, or at least visited. But no convincing evidence of this exists. Furthermore, no confirmed signs of intelligence have yet been spotted in our galaxy or (to the extent it would be detectable) elsewhere in the observable universe. Hence Fermi’s question, “Where is everybody?” ~Wikipedia, Fermi paradox

It’s an interesting question—if one believes in the Darwinian evolution of human beings. I don’t really. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were to find that God created other life forms on other planets, but there’s not an evolutionary necessity for that to be the case. There’s just God expressing His own creative nature.

Here’s an interesting article (with an unfortunate and misleading title) on the whole subject of Christian thought and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

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 Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The series of mysteries that begins with this novel and features almost eleven year old detective, chemist, and poison expert Flavia de Luce has been on my radar for some time now, but I finally used my Barnes and Noble gift card to buy The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and I’m determined to consume the other novels in the series as quickly as possible. The first one is just as good as the many fans have said it was.

From Mr. Bradley’s website: “Great literary crime detectives aren’t always born; they’re sometimes discovered, blindfolded and tied up in a dark closet by their nasty older sisters. Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce’s bitter home life and vicious sibling war inspires her solitary diversions and “strange talents” tinkering with the chemistry set in the laboratory of their inherited Victorian house, plotting sleuth-like vengeance on Ophelia (17) and Daphne (13), and delving into the forbidden past of her taciturn, widowed father, Colonel de Luce. It comes as no surprise, then, that the material for her next scientific investigation will be the mysterious corpse that she uncovers in the cucumber patch.”

I will say that Flavia is unbelievably precocious; she reminds me of my youngest, Z-baby who is intelligent, stubborn, sassy, and spoiled rotten. I say this with some chagrin, since I promised myself that my youngest would not be a pain in the you-know-what like so many other babies of of the family tend to be. And then life happened, and I find myself amazed at her maturity and giftedness and at the same time busily correcting and counteracting her sometimes tendencies to be presumptuous and impertinent.

Anyway, Flavia is a character who might exhaust you if you were her parent, but in a book she’s a delight. I can’t wait to get to know her better, and I’m also anxious to find out more about her sisters, her long-suffering but somewhat absent father, and Dogger, the loyal retainer who serves as dependable adult in Flavia’s life (even though he suffers from something like PTSD or some such ailment as a result of his war experience). The other books in the series are>

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag
A Red Herring Without Mustard
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
Speaking From Among the Bones
The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches

I plan to request them from the library immediately. Mr. Bradley is a Canadian author who now lives in Malta, Sherlockian author of a book that argued that Holmes was a woman (!), and a septuagenarian.

Sweet and sassy, and the author is over seventy years old? Congratulations, Mr. Bradley!

1950: Events and Inventions

January 26, 1950. The new constitution of India is ratified, forming a republic, and Rajendra Prasad is sworn in as India’s first president.

'india map' photo (c) 2008, Bri Lehman - license: 6, 1950. Scientist Klaus Fuchs is sentenced to 14 years in prison for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

April 27, 1950. In South Africa, the Group Areas Act is passed, formally segregating the races. This segregation is called apartheid.

June, 1950. The first human kidney transplant is performed by U.S. surgeon R.H. Lawler.

June 25, 1950. The People’s Republic of North Korea launches a surprise invasion of The Republic of South Korea. The 38th parallel of latitude marks the border between the two nations now, but communist North Korea under the rule of Russian-supported President Kim Il-sung wishes to unite Korea under one communist government.

June 27, 1950. U.S. President Harry S. Truman orders American military forces to aid in the defense of South Korea.

'Ziploc Peanuts All Stars Cards' photo (c) 2009, Mark Anderson - license: 2, 1950. The comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz is first published in seven U.S. newspapers.

October 7, 1950. The 1950-1951 invasion of Tibet by People’s Republic of China begins.

October 19, 1950. The People’s Republic of China enters the Korean conflict by sending thousands of soldiers across the Yalu River.

1950: Books and Literature

The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. wins the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Bertrand Russell won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The National Book Awards are established and the fiction award is presented by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to author Nelson Ahlgren for his book, Man With the Golden Arm.

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli, published in 1949, went on to win the Newbery Award in 1950. The story a boy, Robin, during the Middle Ages who wants to become a knight like his father. However, disease (polio?) strikes, and Robin’s legs become paralyzed. He is taken to a monastery where he regains the use of his legs to some extent and strengthens his spirit and character with the friendship and help of the monks. Robin later becomes a hero. It’s a lovely story to read aloud to children who are trying to figure out what real bravery and heroism are.

The Carnegie Medal for Children’s Literature is awarded to The Lark on the Wing by Elfrida Vipont. Has anybody read it?

Published in 1950:
The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi.
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

So they went and knocked on the study door, and the Professor said “Come in,” and got up and found chairs for them and said he was quite at their disposal. Then he sat listening to them with the tips of his fingers pressed together and never interrupting, till they had finished the whole story. After that he said noting for quite a long time. Then he cleared his throat and said the last thing either of them expected:

“How do you know,” he asked, “that your sister’s story is not true?”

“Oh, but–” began Susan, and then stopped. Anyone could see from the old man’s face that he was perfectly serious. Then Susan pulled herself together and said, “But Edmund said they had only been pretending.”

“That is a point,” said the professor, “which certainly deserves consideration. For instance – if you will excuse me for asking the question – does your experience lead you to regard you brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?”

“That’s just the funny thing about it, sir,” said Peter. “Up till now, I’d have said Lucy every time.”

“And what do you think, my dear?” said the Professor, turning to Susan.

“Well,” said Susan, “in general, I’d say the same as Peter, but this couldn’t be true — all this about the wood and the Faun.”

“That is more than I know,” said the Professor, “and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed.”

“We were afraid it mightn’t even be lying,” said Susan; “we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy.”

“Madness, you mean?” said the Professor quite coolly. “Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One has only to look at her to see that she is not mad.”

“But then,” said Susan, and stopped. Shehad never dreamed that a grown-up would talk like the Professor and didn’t know what to think.

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute.
Three Doors to Death and In the Best Families by Rex Stout. Nero Wolfe’s charge to his assistant Archie: “You are to act in the light of experience as guided by intelligence.”
The 13 Clocks by James Thurber. Reviewed at Things Mean a Lot.

“Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile and almost as cold as his heart.”

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl.

The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh

Jill Paton Walsh has continued the story of Dorothy Sayers’ famous sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, in her books Thrones, Dominations and A Presumption of Death. These two bring the story into the early 1940s, while Paton Walsh’s third installment, The Attenbury Emeralds, takes place after World War II with Lord Peter and his wife, the famous mystery novelist Harriet Vane, dealing with post-war changes and reminiscing about the good old days of post-World War I Britain and Peter’s very first case.

So the book happens in two time periods, both post-war. As fans know, Lord Peter was quite torn up by his part in the Great War, and he only recovered with the help and ministrations of that perfect manservant, Mervyn Bunter. As The Attenbury Emeralds begins, Lord Peter is telling Harriet the story of how he rejoined society after the war (slowly and with much trepidation) and how he blundered into his first detective case, recovering a stolen emerald for his friends, the Attenbury family.

Jill Paton Walsh isn’t Dorothy Sayers, but she’s a good writer in her own right. She’s written several good children’s and young adult books, and if anyone can presume to extend the story of Lord Peter Wimsey, Ms. Walsh has made a good claim on the right to do so with her first two volumes. (I wrote a little about Walsh and Sayers and the Lord Peter books when I first discovered Ms. Walsh’s sequels back in 2004.)

There is a big change in store for Lord Peter in his personal and his public life in this book, and I think Ms. Walsh writes about Lord Peter’s later years (he’s sixty plus by the time this story takes place) convincingly, with respect for Sayers’ creation and with some charm. This older Peter Wimsey is not quite so tortured and emotional as the youthful Lord Peter was, but he’s still just a bit vulnerable and highly attractive.

I recommend all three sequels by Jill Paton Walsh, if you’ve read the original series by Dorothy Sayers and just can’t get enough of Lord Peter Wimsey and his family and his lovely wife, Harriet. If you haven’t read Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, you have a treat in store for you. Get thee to a library or bookstore and read. Here’s a chronology of the Lord Peter Wimsey stories and novels. I’d suggest that you start with the first novel, Whose Body?, and travel through the book-length stories, not worrying about the short stories unless you’re particularly fond of short stories.

Friday Night at the Cinema: All About Eve

We watched All About Eve, a 1950 movie with Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, and Hugh Marlowe. Brown Bear Daughter said it was “the creepiest movie ever, except for Signs and The Village.” Anne Baxter plays what we nowadays would call a stalker; she idolizes actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Ms. Channing is a great actress, but has her own insecurities and character flaws, to say the least. Eve (Anne Baxter) plays off those insecurities masterfully and acts as diabolically as any backroom politician or criminal mastermind.

If you’re in the mood for wickedly entertaining, I’d recommend All About Eve. As a study in idolatry, it’s superb.

According to Internet Movie Database:

In real life, Bette Davis had just turned 42 as she undertook the role of Margo Channing, and Anne Baxter, still an up-and-comer, not only wowed audiences with her performance, but successfully pressured the powers that be to get her nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actress category rather than Best Supporting Actress. This is thought to have split the vote between herself and Davis. The winner for the 1950 Best Actress was Judy Holliday for her noticeable turn in Born Yesterday (1950), so Baxter’s actions in effect blocked Davis’ chances for the win.

The dialog in the movie is remarkable, like a play since it’s from a different era and it takes place in the world of the New York theatre. Here are some quotes. And here’s my favorite scene:

Semicolon’s September: Celebrations, Links and Birthdays

The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman

“It was probably just a silly rumor, but I’d heard that nuns had their heads shaved, and I was afraid they relaxed by taking off their veils and running around bald, something I certainly did not want to see.”

A lot of this book reads like a “silly rumor”. However, some of it is true-to-history, and how is a young adult reader to tell the difference? Were Catholic schools and Catholic nuns back in the 1950’s really repressive and threatening? Probably some were. Were some people blacklisted for Communist sympathies in Hollywood during the so-called “red scare”? Yes, some were. Did those who were blacklisted become so intimidated and frightened by the questions and the pressure from the FBI that they committed suicide? Not unless they were already disturbed and depressed. (The author’s note in the back of the book says that “at least two” of those Hollywood types who were blacklisted committed suicide, but I can’t find any names or independent verification of this fact.) Did children really learn to fear The Bomb and the Reds so much that they worried that airplanes flying overhead might drop a bomb on them? I’m sure some imaginative children did.

Author Karen Cushman lived in California during the late forties/early fifties. I didn’t. She attended a Catholic school. I didn’t.
She says she was taught to “duck and cover” in case of a nuclear attack. I wa taught to go out into an interior hallway and cover my head in tornado drills, but by the time I went to elementary school in the 1960’s, no one was talking about nuclear attacks or fallout shelters to schoolchildren in West Texas. At least, not to me.

So, I’m giving the events in this book the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to read as a straight story. It felt more like a series of caricatures: the angry nun teacher, the poor Jewish liberal actor blacklisted as a consequence of his compassion for the poor and downtrodden, the friend who speaks out and gets herself into trouble, the pious goody-two-shoes who wants to become a nun, the empty-headed teenage sister who’s only interested in fingernail polish and boys, and the bumbling dad who can’t figure out what to do to protect his family from godless Communists and atomic bombs.

Only the narrator, Francine, felt like a real person. Francine is conflicted; she wants to be friends with Sophie, the afore-mentioned outspoken defender of lost causes, but she doesn’t want to get in trouble. Francine is a self-described coward. She’s become accustomed to being overlooked and ignored, and some part of her likes to be unnoticed. The nuns at school and her family at home never ask for her opinion on anything, so Francine isn’t even sure she has any opinions of her own. Francine’s supposed to be a representation of the American public, silent in the face of McCarthyism and persecution of Hollywood Communists. But Francine is more than a symbol. As a character, she insists upon being more complicated and interesting, just as I’m sure the politics and culture of the 1950’s were more complex and multi-layered than this simple presentation would indicate. And the ending is confusing and would be epecially so for those “imaginative young people” to whom I would think this book is targeted. What happened to Sophie and her father? Did the Big Bad FBI put them in a dungeon somewhere? Did they emigrate to Russia? Did they just decide to move and start over elsewhere? The uncertainty is realistic, but annoying, perhaps giving young people the idea that America in the 1950’s was a place like Chile in the 1970’s where people just disappeared never to seen again except as bodies in a mass grave somewhere.
It’s a middle school/young adult novel of one author’s experience of the 1950’s, the red scare, and growing up to become a person with thoughts and ideas of one’s own. There’s some humor in the vein of the opening quotation, a decent plot, and one very engaging narrator. In Texas idiom, I’d call it “fair to middlin”.

Reviewed, much more favorably, by Fuse #8.

Picture Book Preschool Book of the Week (12)

Today is the first official day of spring here in the Northern Hemisphere. To celebrate, all the books listed in my curriculum, Picture Book Preschool, for this week have something to do with springtime. One of the best of the best is Springtime for Jeanne-Marie by Francoise Seignobosc.

Z-baby loves this story. The little French girl, Jeanne-Marie, loses her pet duck, Madalon. Jeanne-Marie also has a pet sheep, Patapon, and she and Patapon set off down the river to look for Madalon. Of course, they ask everyone they meet whether or not they have seen a little white duck, but the answer is always “no.” Eventually, Jeanne-Marie and Patapon make a new friend, Jean Pierre, who helps them in their search. And finally, when they have almost given up hope, the children and Patapon find Madalon in a most unlikely place.

The watercolor illustrations in this picture book are beautifully Old World European. There’s also some counting practice involved in reading the story, and the book is just right for three or four or even five year olds who are just beginning to appreciate a simple plot with some repetition and a little surprise at the end. The children, Jeanne-Marie and Jean Pierre, are delightfully innocent and seem to come from the French countryside of about the 1940’s or 50’s, maybe even earlier. The Jeanne-Marie books, of which there are several, were actually published in France in the 1950’s.

I couldn’t find any information on the internet or in my home reference books about Francoise Seignobosc. Does anyone else have any information about this French author/illustrator?

Picture Book Preschool is a preschool/kindergarten curriculum which consists of a list of picture books to read aloud for each week of the year and a character trait, a memory verse, and activities, all tied to the theme for the week. Click on the link in the sidebar if you are interested in purchasing a copy of the preschool curriculum, Picture Book Preschool by Sherry Early.