Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken

Before there were “steampunk” and “alternate history” and multiple volume fantasy series in children’s books, there was Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence, made up of twelve middle grade novels “set in an imaginary period of English history which never took place: the reign of King James III, in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, when England was still sadly plagued by wolves.”

Black Hearts in Battersea is the second book in the series. Joan Aiken’s website, created by her daughter Lizza Aiken, is full of treasures, including this bibliography of the over 100 books that Ms. Aiken wrote. The Wolves sequence in order consists of:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Black Hearts in Battersea
Night Birds on Nantucket
The Stolen Lake
The Cuckoo Tree
Dido and Pa
Is (Is Underground)
Cold Shoulder Road
Limbo Lodge (Dangerous Games)
Midwinter Nightingale
The Witch of Clatteringshaws
The Whispering Mountain
(prequel to the series)

Black Hearts is a great stand-alone story, but it probably makes more sense and carries more depth if you read the books in order. I’ve read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and reading Black Hearts made me want to go back and re-read it and then read all of the others in the series, something that not too many contemporary fantasy series can inspire me to commit to. If you like Maryrose Wood’s Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series or perhaps Leon Garfield’s atmospheric and very British historical fiction, the Wolves sequence might be just up your alley.

Many of the characters who dominate the later books in the series are introduced or developed in Black Hearts, including Simon the orphan, his good friend Sophie, and Dido Twite the ragamuffin offspring of Simon’s neglectful and suspicious landlords. The story also features ships and piracy, bombs and plots, a very useful tapestry, and a rose-colored hot air balloon.

Joan Aiken was born on September 4, 1924 in Sussex, England. She grew up in a country village with a mother who “decided that I’d learn more if she taught me herself than if I went away to school” and an American father, Conrad Aiken, who was a Pulitzer-prize winning poet and author himself. Joan’s parents divorced when she was a child, and her mother married another author, Martin Armstrong. Ms. Aiken wrote books for children and adults, and she received the Guardian Award for Children’s Fiction in 1969 and the Mystery Writers’ of America Poe Award in in 1972. She died in 2004. The last two books in the Wolves sequence were published posthumously.

The Silver Pencil by Alice Dalgliesh

A 1945 Newbery Honor book, The Silver Pencil really isn’t a children’s book at all. It’s more of a young adult fiction book in the tradition of L.M. Montgomery’s sequels to Anne of Green Gables or her Emily of New Moon books, or maybe more like Little Women, the book that The Silver Pencil alludes to and depends upon for its framing device. (The main character, Janet, is a fan of Little Women, and hence of the United States, a country she has never seen until she comes to New York to study in her late teens, except in the pages of Alcott’s inspirational book.)

The Silver Pencil is also quite the autobiographical novel:

“Born October 7, 1893 in Trinidad, British West Indies, to John and Alice (Haynes) Dalgliesh, Alice immigrated to England with her family when she was 13. Six years later she came to America to study kindergarten education at the Pratt Institute in New York City. She eventually received a Bachelor in Education and Master in English Literature from the Teachers College at Columbia University. While she was at school Dalgliesh applied for and received her naturalization as an American citizen. She taught for 17 years at the Horace Mann School, while also leading courses in children’s literature and story writing at Columbia.”

The Silver Pencil‘s protagonist, Janet Laidlaw, also moves from Trinidad to England and then to the United States, to study kindergarten education. She has some health issues and also spends some time recuperating in Nova Scotia, Canada. Janet becomes a kindergarten teacher, but finds that she is better suited to be a writer. She struggles with young adult sorts of issues: finding her vocation, responding to the men who come into her life, deciding in what country her true citizenship should lie. I daresay most young adults don’t need to make the final decision, but they do decide how much of a citizen they will be and what citizenship and civic duty entail.

I liked the book, but it’s not going to appeal to the masses. For teen and twenty-something girls who like stories about bookish and thoughtful young ladies growing up in and earlier time period (again fans of Montgomery’s Emily books, perhaps), The Silver Pencil might be just the thing.

Happy Birthday Mr. Houseman and Mr. Frost

I am taking a blog break for Lent, but I thought I’d share some of my old posts from years gone by. I’ve been blogging at Semicolon since October, 2003, more than eleven years. This post is copied and edited from March 26, 2010.

A.E. Houseman, b.1859.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry

Robert Frost, b.1874.
The Door in the Dark
Fire and Ice
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
A Time to Talk
A Prayer in Spring

Happy Birthday, Monsieur Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne, b. 1533.

Advice for bloggers from Montaigne:
Don’t discuss yourself, for you are bound to lose; if you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.

When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.

It is more of a job to interpret the interpretations than to interpret the things, and there are more books about books than about any other subject: we do nothing but write glosses about each other.

It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.

There were never in the world two opinions alike, any more than two hairs or two grains. Their most universal quality is diversity.

He who has not a good memory should never take upon himself the trade of lying.

I speak the truth, not my fill of it, but as much as I dare speak; and I dare to do so a little more as I grow old.

Happy Birthday, HWL

“The student has his Rome, his Florence, his whole glowing Italy, within the four walls of his library. He has in his books the ruins of an antique world and the glories of a modern one.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

American Authors of the 19th Century - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, b. 1807.

It Is Not Always May:
“Maiden, that read’st this simple rhyme,
Enjoy thy youth, it will not stay ;
Enjoy the fragrance of thy prime,
For O ! it is not always May !”

Paul Revere’s Ride:
“In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.”

Evangeline, A Tale of Arcadie:
“Fair was she to behold, that maiden of seventeen summers.
Black were her eyes as the berry that grows on the thorn by the way-side,
Black, yet how softly they gleamed beneath the brown shade of her tresses!”

Travels by the Fireside:
“Let others traverse sea and land,
And toil through various climes,
I turn the world round with my hand
Reading these poets’ rhymes.”

The Children’s Hour:
“Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.”
*Why is it that the Children’s Hour lasts all evening at my house?

And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell like a falling star,

The Wreck of the Hesperus:
He wrapped her warm in his seaman’s coat
Against the stinging blast;
He cut a rope from a broken spar,
And bound her to the mast.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere:
“So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm, —
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!”

What The Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist:
“Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
and things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art; to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.”

A little inspiration from from Mr. Longfellow.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Grimm

Wilhelm Carl Grimm, b. 1786. While he and his brother Jacob were in law school, they began to collect folk tales. They collected, after many years, over 200 folk tales, including such famous ones as Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, The Bremen Town Musicians, and Rumpelstiltskin. Both Wilhelm and Jacob were librarians. Here’s a Canadian website with stuff for children: games, coloring pages, animated stories, etc.

True story: I once worked in the reference section of a library in West Texas. We often answered reference questions over the phone. One day a caller asked me, “How do you spell Hansel?” “H-A-N-S-E-L,” I replied. The patron thanked me and hung up. About an hour later, I heard one of the other reference librarians spelling into the phone, “G-R-E-T-E-L.”

Here’s a list of some of the most famous of Grimm’s fairy tales, along with a short list of books and other media based on each tale. Do you like to read fairy tale revision novels?

Cinderella, or Aschenputtel
The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson.
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli.
Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.
Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley. Brown Bear Daughter’s review.
Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry.
A picture book series of Cinderella stories from around the world by Shirley Climo, including The Egyptian Cinderella, The Persian Cinderella, The Korean Cinderella, The Irish Cinderlad, etc.

The Fisherman and His Wife
The Fisherman and His Wife by Rachel Isadora. (picture book)
The Fisherman and His Wife by Margot Zemach. (picture book)

The Valiant Little Tailor
Mickey Mouse appeared in a Disney cartoon, Brave Little Tailor, based on this tale.

The Elves and the Shoemaker
The Elves and the Shoemaker by Paul Galdone. (picture book)
The Elves and the Shoemaker by Bernadette Watts. (picture book)
The Elves and the Shoemaker by Jim Lamarche. (picture book)

The Goose Girl
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.
Thorn by Intisar Khanani.
The Goose Girl by Harold MacGrath.

Snow White and the Dwarves
Black as Night by Regina Doman.
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine.
The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson.
Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen.
1937 Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The 2011 TV series Once Upon A Time features Snow White, Prince Charming, and the Evil Queen as the main characters.

Snow White and Rose Red
The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman.

Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman, Beautiful picture book version of the traditional tale.

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli.
Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes.
Rapunzel: The One with All the Hair by Wendy Mass.
Rapunzel Let Down by Regina Doman.

Hansel and Gretel
The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin.
The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli.

The Bremen Town Musicians

Straw into Gold by Gary D. Schmidt.
The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde.
A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce.
Rumpelstiltskn’s Daughter by Diane Stanley.
The Witch’s Boy by Michael Gruber.
Spinners by Donna Jo Napoli.
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff.

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens

Born on this date in 1812, Mr. Dickens has been delighting readers for over 150 years.

Dickens Novels I’ve Read: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend

Dickens Novels I Have Yet to Enjoy: Hard Times, Dombey and Son, Bleak House, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewit, Little Dorrit, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Favorite Dickens Hero: Pip, Great Expectations

Favorite Dickens Villain(ess): Madame Defarge, Tale of Two Cities

Favorite Tragic Scene: Mr. Peggotty searching for Little Em’ly (Is that a scene or an episode?)

Favorite Comic Character: Mr. Micawber, David Copperfield

Favorite Comic Scene: Miss Betsy Trotwood chasing the donkeys out of her yard, David Copperfield

Strangest Dickens Christmas Story We’ve Read: “The Poor Relation’s Story”, an odd little Christmas story.

Favorite Movie based on a Dickens novel: Oliver! (the musical)

Best Dickens Novel I’ve Read: A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield is a close second.

Dickens-related posts at Semicolon:

LOST Reading Project: Our Mutual Friend by Charles DIckens.

Scrooge Goes to Church

Dickens Pro and Con on his Birthday.

Quotes and Links

Scrooge Goes to Church

Born February 7th

Charles Dickens by Jane Smiley

A Little More Dickens

Advanced Reading Survey: Nicholas Nickleby.

A Dickens Quiz

Other Dickens-related links:
Mere Comments on Dickens’ Christianity.

A Dickens Filmography at Internet Film Database.

George Orwell: Essay on Charles DIckens.

Edgar Allan Poe Meets Charles Dickens.

An entire blog devoted to Mr. Dickens and his work: Dickensblog by Gina Dalfonzo.

And I have a new Dickens quiz for all you Dickens lovers.

Can you match the first with the book from which it is taken?

1. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

2. “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name being Philip, my infant tongue could make nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.”

3. “Although I am an old man, night is generally my time for walking.”

4. “Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.”

5. “Marley was dead: to begin with.”

6. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

7. “In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark bridge which is of iron, and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.”

8. “An ancient English Cathedral Town?”

Anyone who leaves answers in the comments will receive a visit from yours truly to your blog, a thank you for participating, and a link in a future post.

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.

October 25th

1154: Henry II becomes King of England. Henry was married to the much older (nine to eleven years older) Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had been previously married to the King of France, Louis VII, until she managed to get her marriage annulled. Henry himself was nineteen years when he married Eleanor and only twenty-one when he became King of England. Henry and Eleanor had eight children, thereby creating much opportunity for future confusion and conflict regarding the throne of England. (I also have eight children, but no throne for them to fight over; therefore, I hope to see no internecine conflict among my progeny.)

Movies/drama featuring Henry II: Becket, The Lion in Winter, Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot.

Historical fiction:
When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman
Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman
Devil’s Brood by Sharon Kay Penman
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg

1400: Geoffrey Chaucer (birthday unknown) died on October 25, 1400. His Canterbury Tales begins with the words:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tender croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So Priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages …

1415: The Battle of Agincourt on St. Crispin’s Day.

1764: John Adams (28) weds Abigail Smith (19) in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Their marriage lasted 54 years.

You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first. John Adams in a letter to Abigail Adams, April 28, 1776.

John Adams’ Advice to His Children.
On the Character of John Adams.

1854: The Battle of Balaklava during the Crimean War and the Charge of the Light Brigade. Tennyson wrote his famous poem about the charge after reading a newspaper report.

1881: Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain.

1952: Engineer Husband was born in Buda, Texas. Happy Birthday, my love.

Oscar Wilde, b.October 16, 1854, d.November 30, 1900

Facts about Oscar Wilde that you may not have known:
Oscar’s father, Sir William Wilde, was an ear and eye doctor, and his mother, Lady Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee Wilde, was a writer, poet, and translator.

Oscar was profoundly affected by the death of his younger sister when she was ten years old, and for his lifetime he carried a lock of her hair sealed in a decorated envelope.

Wilde had two older half-sisters who died in an accident when their gowns caught fire after a ball.

In 1876 Oscar had a brief romantic affair with a girl named Florence Balcome, who later married Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.

He and his wife Constance had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. (Really, Vyvyan?) Vyvyan later changed the spelling of his name to Vivian. (Who wouldn’t?) Except for the unfortunate name choice, Oscar was an attentive and loving father who spent lots of time with his sons.

When Wilde was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison for “gross indecency”, Constance attempted to protect her sons from the scandal. She took the children to Switzerland and took the old family name of Holland for herself and the boys.

Oscar mostly spent the last three years of his life (after prison) wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. Sad but true.

Oscar Wilde quotes:
“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”

“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”

“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”

“A simile committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle.”

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”

“Everything popular is wrong.”

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.”

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

What have you read of Oscar Wilde’s work? His plays are delightfully funny and witty, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite insightful in its own way, as long as one takes almost anything the characters say or do and turns it upside down to do or believe the opposite.

Poetry Friday: October’s Bright Blue Weather by Helen Hunt Jackson

Novelist, poet, and activist Helen Hunt Jackson was born October 15, 1830. She wrote a nonfiction book titled A Century of Dishonor in which she exposed government mistreatment of the Native American peoples. “Jackson sent a copy to every member of Congress with a quote from Benjamin Franklin printed in red on the cover: ‘Look upon your hands: they are stained with the blood of your relations.'” (Wikipedia, Helen Hunt Jackson) She also wrote a novel, Ramona, in which she endeavored to dramatize the plight of Native Americans in the same manner as her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe had done for black slaves in her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Ms. Jackson’s poetry was much more light-hearted and celebratory than her prose.

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumblebee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And goldenrod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When gentians roll their fingers tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O sun and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.

Rejoice in God’s gift of a new October. Count the hours like a miser, and enjoy the bright blue weather in pairs or alone. That’s my plan.

Poetry Friday Is On! at the Miss Rumphius Effect.