If you like Little House: The Older (Golden) Years of Laura . . .

For the month of July, I’m planning a series of posts about readalikes: what to read (or what to suggest to your favorite child reader) when you’ve read all of your favorite author’s books or all of the books of a certain genre that you know of, and you don’t know what to read next.

On Saturday we talked about Little House (Laura Ingalls Wilder) readalike books for middle grade readers; today I have some prairie and frontier fiction for middle school, high school and even adult readers.

The Jumping-Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely. Becky, Dick, Phil, and Joan, orphaned brothers and sisters, work hard to retain their Uncle Jim’s homestead in Tripp County, South Dakota at the turn of the century, early 1900’s. This book won a Newbery Honor in 1930, around the same time that the Little House books were being published, but it’s not nearly as well known. I put it here in this post for older children and teens because it’s a little darker in tone than the Little House books. A baby dies of snakebite; some homesteaders go hungry; life is hard. But the children/young people survive and thrive with grit and determination.

Patricia Beatty’s historical heroines are usually strong, spunky, and full of life and mischief. Often her novels have themes related to women’s rights, women’s suffrage, and feminism. These have a much more comical, individualistic, and adventurous tone to them than the Little House series, and they’re written for twelve year olds and older.
A selection of some of my favorite frontier fiction titles by Patricia Beatty:
That’s One Ornery Orphan. In Texas in the 1870’s orphan Hallie Lee Baker tries to get herself adopted, but her plan go awry.
Just Some Weeds from the Wilderness. In Oregon in 1873, Adelina Westlake, with the help of her niece Lucinda, goes into business, unheard of for a well-bred female, to save her family from financial ruin.
Something to Shout About. Thirteen year old Hope Foster and her family become the new residents of a new town in 1875: Ottenberg in Montana Territory.
How Many Miles to Sundown? Beeler Quimey and her pet longhorn, Travis, travel with brother Leo and another boy, Nate through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the 1880’s.
By Crumbs It’s Mine. In 1882, thirteen year old Damaris and her family are traveling through Arizona territory in hopes of settling somewhere when her father catches gold fever and deserts the family for the gold fields of California. When Damaris accidentally becomes a hotel owner, the family calls on Aunt Willa to help.
Bonanza Girl. Ann Katie Scott and her mother move to a mining boom-town in Idaho Territory and begin to make a living by opening a restaurant.But how will they survive if the gold gives out?
The Nickel-Plated Beauty. In Washington state in 1886, the Kimballs order their mother a new, shiny, nickel-plated cookstove for Christmas. They keep their plan a secret and spend half the year working to try to pay for the beautiful new stove.
Hail Columbia! In 1893, Louisa’s Aunt Columbia bring her suffragette and other political ideas to the frontier in Astoria, Oregon.
O The Red Rose Tree. Also set in 1893, but back in Washington state, this novel features four thirteen year old girls trying to help an old woman complete her special quilt pattern.
Eight Mules from Monterey. In 1916, Fayette and her librarian mother try to bring library services by mule to the people living in and around Monterrey, California.

When Molly Was a Harvey Girl by Frances M. Wood. Molly pretends to be eighteen years old so that she can get a job as a Harvey girl at the famous Harvey House restaurant.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. The orphaned sixteen year old Hattie Brooks decides to leave Iowa and move to Vida, Montana, to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim. In Montana in 1918, Hattie finds adventure, hardship, and family.
Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson. In this sequel to Hattie Big Sky, Hattie wants to follow in the footsteps of Nellie Bly and become a real newspaper reporter.

If you’ve tried all of these and the ones in the previous Little House readalike post and you still want more, let me know in the comments. I can probably come up with a few more authors and books to sate your appetite for girls and families in historical frontier fiction.

Remembrance by Theresa Breslin

I read Remembrance for my journey to Scotland last month because it was the only book by Theresa Breslin, Carnegie medal winning Scottish author, that my library system had. And it was set during World War I, a favorite time period. There were definitely echoes of Downton Abbey in the book.

Seventeen year old John Malcolm Dundas, son of a Scottish shopkeeper, can’t wait to enlist and fight the Huns. His sister Maggie is eager to do her part, too, or at least to do something more exciting than working her father’s store, and she goes to work in a munitions factory. Little brother Alex Dundas is only fourteen, but he longs to get into the fighting before the war ends. Then, there’s the other family in the book, the Armstrong-Barneses, consisting of mother, son Francis, and daughter Charlotte. Charlotte trains to become a nurse so that she can contribute to the war effort, even though her mother does not approve of girls in her “station of life” (the upper class) working in hospitals, particularly not her teenaged daughter. Francis, old enough to be a soldier, tries to avoid the war, reads lots of newspapers, and draws. He’s the sensitive, artistic type, and he’s opposed to the war and the way it’s being fought.

The book follows the histories of these five teens as World War I impacts them, fills their lives, and changes them and their families and their village. It would be a good fictional introduction to World War I for high school age readers and for adults. The details of life in the trenches and in the hospitals are harrowing and gritty, but I would much prefer this book as an accompaniment to the study of World War I over the one that’s often assigned, All Quiet on the Western Front. I found the plot of All Quiet on the Western Front very nearly as confusing as the battles of the war itself must have been. Remembrance with its more straightforward plot leaves out none of the horror of the war, but it tells the story of World War I in a much more approachable and understandable manner.

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

The Family Romanov: Murder Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming.

Were the Romanov family a Christian family, persecuted by the evil Communist revolutionaries and ultimately martyrs to their (Orthodox) faith?

“Alix (Alexandra) . . . spent hours a day on her knees in prayer.” (p.28)

“God’s will must always be accepted without complaint. After all, everything that happened in life was the result of God’s will, so it was pointless to question the meaning of events. ‘God knows what is good for us,’ Nicholas often reminded himself. ‘We must bow down our heads and repeat the sacred words, ‘Thy will be done.”” (p.43)

“Typically Nicholas believed Alexei’s illness was God’s will, and so he accepted it passively. ‘My own fate and that of my family are in the hands of Almighty God.'” (p.55)

“Alexandra believed Rasputin’s healing powers were a gift from God, the answer to all her long hours of prayer.” (p.87)

“Alexandra wanted to do more. So she enrolled in nursing courses, and she took nineteen-year-old Olga and seventeen-year-old Tatiana with her. . . Working in the wards, the students washed, cleaned, and bandaged maimed bodies, mangled faces, blinded eyes.” (p.138)

“‘It is necessary to look more calmly on everything,’ she (Alexandra) said three months after her husband’s abdication. ‘What is to be done? God has sent us trials, evidently he thinks we are prepared for it. It is a sort of examination—to prove we are ready for His grace.'” (p.185)

“Their mornings began and evenings ended with prayers.” “Marie offered to read aloud from the family’s favorite collection of sermons.” (p.228)

Or was Nicholas an evil, violent man and was Alexandra blinded by her near-idolatry for Rasputin and for her icons to which she turned in faith that they would make her son well?

“They (the police) shared Nicholas’s view that ‘the Yids,’ as he derisively called his Jewish subjects, ‘must be kept in their place.'” (p.69)

“Nicholas decided to crack down on all of his subjects. Now, he declared, they would ‘feel the whip.’ Perhaps then they would think twice before rebelling.” (p.79)

“Their work (the pogroms) delighted Nicholas. Once, after reading a particularly gruesome report of hangings and beatings, he turned to an aide. ‘This really tickles me,’ he said. ‘It really does.'” (p.80)

“Alexandra firmly believed Rasputin was God’s messenger, sent to guide them through the war. ‘I fully trust in Our Friend’s wisdom endowed by God to counsel what is right for you and our country,’ she wrote Nicholas.” (p.148-9)

Both, I think, however contradictory that may be. The book is certainly a warning to those of us who are Christians: we may be blinded by our own prejudices and those of our culture into believing things that are contrary to the gospel of Christ and into acting upon those erroneous beliefs. We must always compare our actions and beliefs with the yardstick of Scripture and ask for specific guidance from the Holy Spirit. I believe that if Nicholas and Alexandra had done so in regard to the Jews and to Rasputin, that guidance would have been granted to them.

Ms. Fleming does a good job of presenting a balanced and intriguing picture of the Romanovs, and I recommend the book.

March 18th: St. Alexander of Jerusalem and Second Lieutenant Owen

St. Alexander was a bishop in Jerusalem in the third century, and he is known for having founded a theological library and a school in Jerusalem during his tenure there. When he was an old man, he was arrested and taken to prison in Caesarea where he died, after being physically tortured and almost fed to the wild beasts.

“The glory of his white hairs and great sanctity formed a double crown for him in captivity.” Feast Day Of St. Alexander of Jerusalem, March 18th.

Wilfred Owen, World War One poet, b.March 18,1893, d.November 4, 1918.

2nd Lt, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, 5th Bn. Manch. R., T.F., attd. 2nd Bn.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the attack on the Fonsomme Line on October 1st/2nd, 1918. On the company commander becoming a casualty, he assumed command and showed fine leadership and resisted a heavy counter-attack. He personally manipulated a captured enemy machine gun from an isolated position and inflicted considerable losses on the enemy. Throughout he behaved most gallantly.

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
by Wilfred Owen

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

“[S]he had forgotten that it is the first concern of love to safeguard the dignity of the beloved, so that neither God in his skies nor the boy peering through the hedge should find in all time one possibility for contempt . . .”

I’m not sure what that statement means, to guard someone else’s dignity before God and man(?), but it is interesting to think about, as is this little story by Rebecca West, her first novel, published just as the First World War was ending in 1918. In 1914, The Soldier, Captain Christopher Baldry, is a sort of a hero, returning from the war, but the book is really about the women that Captain Baldry left behind: his cousin Jenny, his wife, Kitty, and his first love, Margaret.

The Return of the Soldier is another amnesia story, but it has an atmosphere and a poignancy that some of the other stories in the genre lack. Chris Baldry comes back from the war having lost his memory of the past fifteen years. The story is narrated by Jenny, Chris’s cousin, who grew up with Chris and who lives in his house as a companion to his wife, Kitty.

There are lot of questions raised in the story and left to be answered by the reader:

Is Jenny a reliable narrator? Are the thoughts and motivations of the other characters really as Jenny describes them or are we being told a tale that is only true in part from Jenny’s perspective? And who is Jenny? Why is she there, and why is she so interested in telling this story? I tried to read the story carefully, but I was never sure about Jenny’s personality and motivations.

What kind of person is Chris? Was he really happy in his marriage and his home before the war? Would he want to return to the war and “do his duty”, or is his amnesia not only an illness but also a subconscious running away from the horrors of the battlefield?

Who really loves Chris Baldry, the soldier? I would say that the woman who sacrifices herself for him is the one who really loves him. Who is that? Well, you tell me after you’ve read the book.

I recommend that you read this one slowly and carefully, paying attention to the details of time, setting, characterization, and plot. I wonder if watching the 1982 movie version of this novel, starring Alan Bates, Julie Christie, Ian Holm, Glenda Jackson, and Ann-Margret, would help at all in answering any of the questions, at least from the perspective of the screenwriters, the director, and the actors who made the movie.

World War One for Children and Young Adults

I read three novels in the past couple of weeks for children and young adults that were set before, during, and after World War I. I’ll have to say that each of the books was odd in its own way: odd prose style in the first, an unexpected twist that I almost didn’t see coming in the second, and anomalous angels in the third.

Eyes Like Willy’s by Juanita Havill. A French brother and sister, Guy and Sarah Masson, and their Austrian friend Willy are separated by the war. The writing style in this one is the strange part. At least, it read oddly to me. The sentences are short and choppy, Hemingway-esque, with a lack of transitions and analogies that I found disconcerting. At the same time, the sparse prose made me pay attention to each detail, so I can’t say it was ineffective—just odd. Here’s an example, chosen at random:

“Their first guests of the summer were Willy and his father. Willy had grown much taller. He was almost as tall as Guy, and thinner. He had a thin black mustache and looked older than seventeen. Seeing Wily’s mustache, Guy decided that he would grow one this summer.”

If I were writing the story, I would probably have combined some of those sentences into one more complicated sentence. But I’m not at all sure that my inclination to complication would be the better choice for this story. The book is short, 135 pages, but it tells a nuanced story of friendship over the course of several years and the effects of war on the relationships of three young people as they grow into adulthood during World War I.

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. Mr. Morpurgo also wrote War Horse, the book that formed the source material for the movie of the same name from last year. Both Private Peaceful and War Horse are set during World War I, and I plan to pick up the latter book from the library this afternoon. I haven’t seen the movie or read the book yet.

Private Peaceful focuses on the plight of British soldiers who were summarily tried, condemned and executed on the battlefield for cowardice or desertion during World War 1. Mr. Morpurgo gives some information in his afterword that I did not know about this practice:

“That a shameful injustice had been done to these unfortunate men seemed to me beyond doubt. Their judges called them ‘worthless.’ Their trials, or court martials, were brief, under twenty minutes in some cases. Twenty minutes for a man’s life. Often they had no one to speak for them and no witnesses were called in their defense. . . . The youngest soldier to be executed was just seventeen.

Successive British governments have since refused to acknowledge the injustice suffered by these men, and have refused to grant posthumous pardons—which would of course be a great consolation to surviving relatives. The New Zealand government have pardoned their executed soldiers; it can be done. The Australians and the Americans, to their credit, never allowed their soldiers to be executed in the first place.”

I thought the novel itself, the story of Charlie and Tommo Peaceful, brothers who went to war together, was well-written and absorbing. Mr. Morpurgo kept me guessing until the end, and one of the minor characters, Big Joe, was so well-drawn that I wanted him to have his own book. (Big Joe is the Peaceful brothers’ older sibling who is mentally challenged.)

I recommend Private Peaceful if you liked War Horse or if you just want to read a well-told tale of the difficulties of being a soldier on the front lines during World War I.

A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse. In 1918 Boston, Hannah Gold must face her own wartime suffering as the influenza epidemic sweeps through her family and town. While the war forms a backdrop for this novel, it’s really the story of a Jewish family and the influenza epidemic of 1918. Fourteen year old Hannah is rather improbably sent out into the streets of Boston by her erstwhile guardian to keep her from catching the flu from her family members, and she ends up, again improbably, in Vermont. Hannah also sees angels.

It’s a good introduction to the time period and the prejudices of that era and the hardships of the Spanish flu epidemic. And the reviews at Amazon are for the most part highly positive. I just didn’t ever believe in Hannah or her cold impersonal guardian Vashti or her plight. And I thought the author cheated on the ending by making us believe one (tragic) thing and then pulling off a “no, not really” surprise. And the angels seemed out of place and sort of extraneous.

So, my favorite World War I children’s and YA novels so far are: Winnie’s War by Jennie Moss, The Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Laurence, and Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. What about you?

1918: Arts and Entertainment

Here’s a link to a spotify playlist of favorite songs from the 1910″s:



The songs on the playlist are:
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
St. Louis Blues
COme Josephine in my Flying Machine
Keep the Home Fires Burning
K-K-K-Katy
Over THere
It’s a Long Way to Tipperary
Roses of Picardy
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Colonel Bogey March
Rule Britannia/God Save the King
Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile

Anyone have a favorite song from the 1910’s? Z-baby asked if I was alive during that decade. I assured her that I was not.

1918: Events and Inventions

March, 1918. Russia signs the Treaty of Brest-Livosk with Germany and Austria-Hungary, leaving World War 1. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Germany and Turkey gain large regions of western and southern Russia.

March 31, 1918. The Germans launch a massive offensive on the Western Front, and the Allies retreat in confusion toward Paris.

June, 1918-1921. The Red Army of the Bolsheviks in Russia fight a civil war with the White Russians, a loosely organized group of anti-communists who are supported to some extent by the British and other Allied countries.

July 17, 1918. Czar Nicholas II of Russia and his family are murdered in their prison house in the Ural Mountains.

August 8, 1918. Twenty Allied divisions including British, Canadian, Australian, U.S. and French troops go on the attack near Amiens, France and push the Germans back five miles to the lines they occupied before German victory earlier in the spring.

September, 1918. Spanish influenza sweeps through Europe killing millions and crippling the war effort on both sides. Between 50 and 100 million people will die from the influenza between 1918 and 1920 as it travels across the world, making it possibly the most deadly epidemic in history. The flu epidemic kills far more people, soldiers and civilians, than the war, in spite of the horrible casualty rate of World War I.

October 1, 1918. Arab forces led by Prince Feisal and advised by British Major T.E. Lawrence capture the Syrian city of Damascus from the Turkish Ottomans. Most of the Arab Middle East, including Palestine and the city of Jerusalem, is now free of Turkish rule.

'Traffic lights, Grand Rapids' photo (c) 2009, Andrew Hill - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/October, 1918. The Austro-Hungarian Empire begins to break up as Czechoslovakia declares its independence.

November 11, 1918. At 11 a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918 the armistice between the Allies—France, Britain, the United States, and Italy–and the German Empire takes effect. It is estimated that more than ten million people have died in the war, more than in other war in the history of mankind.

December, 1918. The world’s first three-color traffic lights are introduced in New York CIty.

1918: Books and Literature

American author Willa Cather published her novel, My Antonia, in 1918. It’s a story about the life of a Bohemian immigrant girl who lives on the prairie in a town called Black Hawk, Nebraska.

His Family by Ernest Poole won the first Pulitzer Prize for the novel in 1918.

Booth Tarkington continued to be a popular and prolific author, publishing his novel of the midwest, The Magnificent Ambersons in 1918. I wrote about The Magnificent Ambersons here. Orson Welles made a movie based on Tarkington’s book that I plan to watch someday.

And last but not least, professor William Strunk, Jr. wrote a little book called The Elements of Style, and he published it himself privately for use in his teaching at Cornell University. It was a writing style guide with eight rules of usage and ten principles of composition, and it greatly influenced a young student and writer named E.B. White (author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little); so much so, that White later found the little book, wrote a newspaper story about it, and revised it for publication by Macmillan Publishers in 1959. (Professor Strunk was, by this time, deceased.)

The little book, known informally as Strunk and White, became a best seller, and its influence on the writing habits and style of academic writers and common journalists has been incalculable. You can listen to an NPR story on the history of Strunk and White:

Reading about the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919

Hero Over Here by Kathleen Kudlinski. Theodore’s father and brothers are heroes —fighting the enemy during World War I. Theo learns his own lesson about heroism when he must take care of his entire family, mother and sisters, during the deadly flu epidemic of 1918.

A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse. Hannah flees Boston to escape the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, but she must battle both influenza and prejudice in Battleboro, Vermont where she makes a new life for herself.

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan. When Rachel’s missionary parents die in an influenza epidemic in 1919 in Kenya, she is sent by scheming neighbors to England to pose as their daughter for a rich grandfather who may leave his estate to his fake granddaughter if she can endear herself to him.

Winnie’s War by Jennie Moss. Winnie has her courage tested when the influenza attacks her small Texas town of Coward’s Creek. The fun thing about this novel is that Coward’s Creek is a pseudonym for the town of Friendswood, Texas just down the road from our home in southeast Houston.