The Jersey Brothers by Sally Mott Freeman

It’s raining; it’s pouring here in Houston, Texas. And Hurricane Harvey is headed for Corpus Christi and set to bring Houston a whole heck of a lot of more rain and possible/probable flooding. And my personal and family life is a bit of a mess, too.

However, if ever a book would cause me to pause and count my blessings, The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family’s Quest to Bring Him Home is that book. I thought the scenes and descriptions in Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand were harrowing and violent and disturbing, but this book tops that one for sheer cruelty and horror, man’s inhumanity to man. It’s not gratuitous, either. As far as I can tell the scenes and events the author describes really happened and were the central truths of the experience of Barton Cross, an American Navy prisoner of war to the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II. YOu’ve heard of the “Bataan Death March”? Well, that’s described in this book in excruciating detail, even though Ensign Cross didn’t have to participate in that particular piece of history. (Many of his fellow prisoners did.) And the Battle of the Coral Sea and Iwo Jima and Tarawa—all described, again in horrific detail because one or the other of Barton’s two brothers were there. All three brothers were Navy officers, and the older two, Bill (the author’s father) and Benny, spent the war fighting on Navy ships or working in Washington, D.C. and trying all the time to find Barton, their baby brother.

Between the three of them the Jersey Brothers, called that because they were from New Jersey, had a sweeping view of the war in the Pacific, from FDR’s War Room in the White House to Pearl Harbor to the battles across the Pacific to the prisons and camps of Mindanao and Leyte and other Philippine islands. As I read about the experience each of the brothers and of their mother, Helen Cross, at home in New Jersey, I was overwhelmed with gratefulness both for their sacrifice and that of many, many others and for my relatively easy and uneventful life. We may have our problems, but not many of us since World War II have had to suffer or endure anything near what those “greatest generation” men and families did.

I was also convinced again that maybe the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the best solution for an intractable problem—that of ending the war with the least possible loss of life for all concerned. The Japanese were employing suicide bombers (kamikaze) to a much greater extent than I ever remember reading about, and they were not willing to surrender. General MacArthur was intent on invading the Japanese islands, but the predictions of 600,000 American casualties—or more—convinced Truman that the threat of the atomic bomb would save many American and Japanese lives. The army was predicting Japanese casualties during an invasion to run over a million. The Japanese civilians and military were instructed to fight to the death, and many, many were willing to do so. Deaths from both atomic bomb blasts were much, much fewer than any of those estimates and many times fewer than the deaths already sustained by both the Allies and the Japanese in the battles across the Pacific. As horrific as the atomic bombs’ destruction and devastation were, they were not nearly as cruel as the terror and savage brutality that the Japanese visited upon the prisoners of war and the subject peoples that they conquered and ruled over in the Philippines and elsewhere. Take what you’ve read about the Holocaust and the concentration camps in Europe and transfer it to jungles of the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and you will have some idea of the absolute evil that was put to an end by the evil of two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, the atomic bombs were vicious and horrible, but maybe it was God’s mercy that allowed it to happen.

I recommend The Jersey Brothers, if you are able to read about the savagery and the suffering that went on during the war in the Pacific. It did make me thankful for the problems I have and the ones that I don’t.

We Were There at the Opening of the Atomic Era by James Munves

I don’t know Mr. Munves, but the historical consultant for this book in the historical fiction series We Were There is also a character in the book, Dr. John R. Dunning. Dr. Dunning really was there. In fact, in his introduction to the story, Dr. Dunning explains:

“When Mr. Munves asked me to serve as his historical consultant in the writing of this book, I agreed at once because to me there is nothing more important than recapturing for our you men and women the wonderful creative excitement those days in which the atomic age began. When I went over Mr. Munves’ manuscript with him and discovered that I was a character in his story, I asked him if he would let me write a preface so as to make it clear to you that this Dr. Dunning is a real person. Most of the characters in the story, except for the young hero and his father, are real people.”

This book was published by Grossett and Dunlap in 1960, and it begins in 1942 with fifteen year old school boy, Tony Brenner, whose father works with Enrico Fermi, Professor John Dunning, and other scientists at Pupin Laboratories in New York City. When Tony makes a presentation to his high school science club about the possibilities of nuclear fission, his father is both proud and alarmed. “If a Nazi spy heard about your speech, he might think I was doing research in atomic energy,” says Papa Brenner, who is German immigrant and a physicist. Of course, that’s exactly what Dunning, Fermi, the fictional Brenner are doing, but the project is Top Secret. SO Tony gets taken into the top secret Manhattan Project so that he will learn what he needs to keep secret and why.

Tony’s family moves first to Chicago and then to New Mexico, all in pursuit of an atomic weapon that will defeat the Germans (and the Japanese) and win the war. The story presents most of the common arguments both for and against the bomb, and it gives a lot of scientific and technical information about the bomb and how it was developed. The ending sentences will give you a feel for the moral consensus of the book’s authors and consultants:

“It is not a nice thing to think about—that you helped make something that killed or hurt at least 230,000 people. But it doesn’t really matter whether this was done by bullet, sword, fire or atomic energy.
What does matter is that people wish to kill or hurt other people. . . .
The atom promises unlimited power. It also threatens the destruction of civilization. It is up to all of us to decide how it will be used.
The atom is neither good nor evil. Only people are.”

If you are interested in the events and people surrounding the Manhattan Project and the making, testing, and use of the atomic bomb, I would suggest you find a copy of this novel for a 1960-ish perspective on the project, its genesis and aftermath. For other children’s and young adult books on the subject, take a look at:

Fiction:
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages.
The Secret Project Notebook by Carolyn Reeder.
The Bomb by Theodore Taylor. Nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.

Nonfiction:
Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin.
Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb.

On July 16, 1945 at 5:29:45 a.m., the scientists of the Manhattan Project successfully tested the first atomic bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Less than a month later, in August, the bomb was used to force the Japanese to surrender to Allied forces and end World War II.

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Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Aim is a prequel to Ms. Hostetter’s two books about Ann Fay Honeycutt, Blue and Comfort. Aim is about Junior Bledsoe, a secondary, but beloved, character in those other two books. (Ann Fay is the minor character in this one.)

The story takes place in 1941-1942. Fourteen year old Junior Bledsoe of Hickory, North Carolina has a troubled life. His father is a drunk. Junior doesn’t like school and can’t really see the point of it. His cantankerous and sometimes cruel granddaddy has moved in and taken over Junior’s bedroom. And World War II is about to involve the United States of America, except according to Granddaddy, “That yellow-bellied president is too chicken to take us to war. He ain’t half the man the Colonel was.” (The Colonel, in Grandaddy’s jargon, refers to Teddy Roosevelt.)

While Junior worries about school and the draft and impending war and that fact that his father seems distant and stern most of the time, Junior’s dad manages to go on a drinking binge and get killed in a accident. Or was it an accident? How can Junior go back to school when he’s not sure what really happened to his Pop? And what are they going to do about Grandaddy who’s becoming more verbally abusive and demanding every day? Should Junior drop out of school and get a job? Or join the army? Or investigate the moonshiners who may have been involved in Pop’s death?

This story is really all about a boy who’s trying to find his way to adulthood without the guidance of a father. However, the wonderful thing is that the community steps in to work together and separately to help Junior find his “aim” in life. Even when Junior Bledsoe makes some really poor choices and gets himself into what could become serious trouble, members of his extended community help his now-single mother guide Junior back to the path of good sense and responsible moral judgement. Junior is a good kid, but he’s looking for a way to deal with his father’s death and a way to earn the respect of his family and his friends. It’s not easy for a fourteen year old boy to lose his father, especially not the way Junior Pop dies. It was inspiring to read about how ordinary, ind neighbors, teachers, and friends help Junior to process his father’s death and to decide which parts of his father’s legacy he wants to continue and which parts he wants to leave in the grave.

Aim is an excellent coming-of-age novel, and I would also recommend Blue, about Ann Fay and her encounter with the dreaded disease of polio about a year after the events in Aim have taken place. I have yet to read Comfort, the sequel to Blue, but it is definitely on my TBR list.

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New York Herald Tribune Spring Book Festival Awards

In 1937 two awards of $250 each were established by the New York Herald-Tribune for the best books for younger children and for older children published between January and June. In 1941 the system of awards was revised. Three awards, of $200.00 each, were given to the best books in the following three classes: young children, middle-age children, and other children. Each year a jury, composed of distinguished experts in the field of juvenile literature, was chosen to make the selections.

1937 Seven Simeons, by Boris Artzybasheff. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Viking.)

The Smuggler’s Sloop, by Robb White III. For older children. Illustrated by Andrew Wyeth. (Little.)

1938 The Hobbit, by J. R. Tolkien. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Houghton.)

The Iron Duke, by John R. Tunis. For older children. Illustrated by Johari Bull. (Harcourt)

1939 The Story of Horace, by Alice M. Coats. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Coward.)

The Hired Man’s Elephant, by Phil Stong. For older children. Illustrated by Doris Lee. (Dodd.)

1940 That Mario, by Lucy Herndon Crockett. For younger children. Illustrated by the author. (Holt)

Cap’n Ezra, Privateer, by James D. Adams. For older children. Illustrated by I. B. Hazelton. (Harcourt.)

1941 In My Mother’s House, by Ann Nolan Clark. For younger children. Illustrated by Velino Herrera. (Viking.)

Pete by Tom Robinson. For middle-age children. Illustrated by Morgan Dennis. (Viking.)

Clara Barton, by Mildren Mastin Pace. For older children. (Scribner.)

1942 Mr. Tootwhistle’s Invention, by Peter Wells. For younger children.
Illustrated by the author. (Winston.)

I Have Just Begun to Fight: The Story of John Paul Jones, by
Commander Edward Ellsberg. For middle-age children. Illustrated
by Gerald Foster. (Dodd.)

None But the Brave, by Rosamond Van der Zee Marshall. For
older children. Illustrated by Gregor Duncan. (Houghton.)

1943 Five Golden Wrens, by Hugh Troy. For younger children. Illus-
trated by the author. (Oxford.)

These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. For middle-
age children. Illustrated by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle.
(Harper-.)

Patterns on the Wall, by Elizabeth Yates. For older children.
(Knopf.)

1944 A Ring and a Riddle, by M. Ilm and E. Segal. For younger children.
Illustrated by Vera Bock. (Lippincott)

They Put Out to Sea, by Roger Duvoisln. For middle-age children.
Illustrated by the author. (Knopf.)

Storm Canvas, by Armstrong Sperry, For older children. Illustrated
by the author. (Winston.)

1945 Little People in a Big Country, by Norma Cohn. For younger children. Illustrated by Tashkent Children’s Art Training Center in Soviet Uzbekistan. (Oxford.)

Gulf Stream by Ruth Brindze. Illustrated by Helene Carter. For middle-age children., (Vanguard.)

Sandy, by Elizabeth Janet Gray. For older children. (Viking.)

1946 Farm Stories. Award divided between Gustaf Tenggren, illustrator, and Kathryn and Byron Jackson, authors. For younger children. (Simon & Schuster.)

The Thirteenth Stone, by Jean Bothwell, illustrated by Margaret Ayer. For middle-age children. (Harcourt)

The Quest of the Golden Condor, by Clayton Knight. Illustrated by the author. For older children. (Knopf.)

Other than The Hobbit and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years, has anyone read or reviewed any of these prize-winning books? I know of the authors Jean Bothwell, Elizabeth Janet Grey, Armstrong Sperry, Roger Duvoisin, Elizabeth Yates, John Tunis, and Ann Nolan Clark, but not these particular books of theirs.

Skating With the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer

Yesterday I read this 2016 middle grade fiction novel about a twelve year old French Jewish boy named Gustave and his experience of immigrating to the United States during World War II. Because of this book, and yesterday’s review of It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel, and some other upcoming reviews, it seems to have turned into Refugee and Immigrant Week here at Semicolon. It was an unplanned emphasis, but one that is quite apropos considering the news and the times we live in.

In Skating With the Statue of Liberty, Gustave and his extended family come to the United States from war-torn France, after having hidden and then escaped from the Nazis. The family faces many challenges. They are not allowed to bring adequate funds with them to start a new life, and so they are forced to smuggle in what little money they have. No one in the family speaks English, except for Gustave who has learned a little bit of English in school. Gustave’s father can only get a low-paying job as a janitor. Gustave doesn’t understand many things about American culture and customs, and even in America, he faces instances of anti-Semitism and racism as he becomes friends with a “Negro” girl, September Rose.

I read in the book cover blurb that this novel is a companion to the author’s debut novel, Black Radishes. Now I want to go back and read that one because Skating With the Statue of Liberty was a great story. It feels historically accurate, and yet the themes and scenes are quite applicable to the issues of racism and anti-Semitism that we see in the news today. Gustave struggles with whether he should think of himself as French or American or something else, perhaps Jewish. He discusses with a rabbi his lack of faith in a God who would allow the horror and persecution of Jews in German-occupied France. September Rose’s family struggles with how to support their country and the war effort and also stand against the injustice and discrimination that they face as black Americans.

I found this book, by a Jewish author and based partly on her father’s stories of his childhood escape from Nazi-occupied France, to be well-written, historically informative, and absorbing. The plot doesn’t sugarcoat the issues of prejudice, anti-immigrant persecution, discrimination, and even racial and anti-Semitic violence, but the ending and the growing friendship between Gustave and September Rose are hopeful and encouraging.

I just think kids (and adults) need books like this one and like It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel to help them begin to make sense of what is happening politically and socially in our nation. It may have been a coincidence that I read these two books almost back to back, but it gave me an idea to showcase the many really good books about refugees and immigrants that I have read and loved. So that’s what I’ll be doing this week.

The Bomber’s Moon by Betty Vander Els

This fictional treatment of missionary children escaping World War II China reads almost like a memoir. In a brief search on the internet, I couldn’t find any information about the author, Betty Vander Els, but I would almost bet that this story is a fictionalized version of her own experiences or those of a very close friend. In the book in 1942 “Ruth”, about eleven years old, and her younger brother, Simeon, are sent away to an emergency boarding school for missionary kids so that they won’t end up in the concentration camp of Weihsien, captured by the approaching Japanese. However, their emergency school site is no safer from Japanese bombing raids than their homes were, and so the children are evacuated over the Himalayas to Calcutta.

The contrast between the children’s petty day-to-day concerns and the enormous events that are happening around them is one focus of this book. Ruth considers herself to be a naughty girl. She gets spanked (or strapped as the book calls it) a lot. But her infractions seem petty and inconsequential, too, for the most part: wandering away from the group, forgetting responsibilities, being disrespectful to teachers. Ruth’s concerns are to survive school and her nemesis, Miss Elson, and to take care of Simeon as her parents have charged her to do. The book paints a vivid picture of what it must have been like to see the war and its effects from a child’s point of view.

Ruth is a bit of an annoying child. She calls Simeon “dope” and “dummy” and “cowardly custard” and other such epithets frequently. She does forget to do her work, and she and her friend Anne play tricks on the teachers and band together to outwit the other children and get their own way. However, at the same time Ruth is quite concerned about taking care of Simeon, and she tries to teach him to be tough and to stand up to hardship. Simeon and his friend, Paul, are both daydreamers and and imaginers who run away, get lost, and find themselves in trouble with alarming frequency. And ever in the background and on the periphery of the children’s lives, there are Japanese bombers, American flyers, Chinese children, and Indian amahs. The setting is both exotic and dangerous, and Ruth and Simeon sashay through all the danger and foreign cultures with style and childlike confidence. In short, they act like children.

There’s a sequel (that I haven’t read) with the same characters called Leaving Point: “Home from boarding school to spend Christmas with their missionary parents, fourteen-year-old Ruth and her brothers find that the Communist Revolution has brought about many changes and new restrictions that complicate Ruth’s growing friendship with a young Chinese girl who may not be what she seems.” (Goodreads)

FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marrin

History professor Albert Marrin has been writing nonfiction narrative history for quite a while: his first book for young adults was Overlord: D Day and the Invasion of Europe, which was published in 1982. He has written more than thirty history narratives for children and young adults, including Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, a National Book Award finalist.

In his latest book, Marrin returns to the World War II era and to the Great Depression and to the president who shepherded America through both of those crises, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was a complicated character, and Mr. Marrin presents him—warts, strengths, and all—in the context of the events and attitudes of his time. FDR and The American Crisis is, above all, a comprehensive and balanced vision of Roosevelt, what he did for the United States and what he did to change the country, for better and for worse.

In addition to my appreciation for its even-handedness, I was most impressed with the personal tone of Mr. Marrin’s very detailed, yet broad, narrative. Mr. Marrin is 79 years old. Born in 1936, he actually remembers some of the events of Roosevelt’s presidency and of the second World War. And he’s not afraid to gently insert himself into the narrative with an “I remember” or a “we all wonder if” statement. In addition, Marrin isn’t reluctant to share his own informed opinion when it’s appropriate:

“Critics branded Hoover a ‘do-nothing’ president who let Americans suffer due to his commitment to old-fashioned ideas. It is untrue.”

“The media developed a teenager’s crush on the Red Army.”

“Convinced of his own virtue and wisdom, he (FDR) thought too highly of his personal charm and powers of persuasion. He misjudged the murderous Stalin.”

“Those who praised him (FDR) as a saintly miracle worker are as wrong as those who bitterly cursed him as a monster.”

Bottom line, I learned a lot from reading FDR and the American Crisis—and I learned it in a throughly pleasant and absorbing read. Mr. Marrin once said in an interview, “Kids are very bright. I’m not going to write down. If anything, I’ll have them read up to me.” This book is not dumbed down, nor is it a breezy hagiography of a famous president. Any high school, or even college, student looking for both an in-depth and readable introduction to FDR and his presidency could not do better than to read Mr. Marrin’s book first.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose.

The Newbery honor and National Book Award winning author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose, has chronicled the fascinating true story of a group of Danish boys who jump-started the resistance to the Nazis in Denmark during World War II. Knud Pedersen, a pastor’s son, joined with his high school buddies to harass and subvert the Germans who were occupying Denmark. They stole guns, burned German vehicles, confused signage, posted graffiti,and cut phone lines, among other acts of sabotage and resistance. And they acted when almost no one else in Denmark was resisting the Germans at all. Pedersen says they did it because they were ashamed of Denmark’s easy capitulation to the Nazis and the collaboration that characterized the Danish response to the German occupation.

“I kept asking myself: How on earth could I lie on the beach sunning when my country had been violated? Why were we not as brave as Norway? Had Denmark no pride?”

Eventually, the boys, who after all were just boys with no military or resistance experience, were arrested and imprisoned. But they became an inspiration to the adults of Denmark who began their own resistance movement. Mr. Hoose credits Knud Pedersen and his Churchill Club with “setting the ball in motion” and making Denmark “a hotbed of resistance.”

I would have liked to have read more about the religion “ghosts” (hints about a religious or Christian influence that aren’t fleshed out) in this story. Pedersen’s father was a pastor, but we are never told what denomination or what that fact meant to Knud Pedersen. Pedersen tells how the boys decided that they would have to be willing to kill Germans in order to form an effective resistance cell, but he never says anything about how they reconciled the violence they were willing to commit with their Christian background or faith. In fact, it is hinted, but never stated, that perhaps Knud Pedersen and his brother, who was also involved in the Churchill Club, didn’t have much faith or Christianity to reconcile. However, perhaps they did, but the author doesn’t tell us about it. Pedersen is filled with hatred: for the Germans, for the Danish collaborators, and for his jailers. A struggle with what to do with such hatred in a Christian context is never mentioned.

Religion ghosts in the text:

“Holy Ghost Monastery . . . would host Edvard Pedersen’s Danish Folkschurch and provide living quarters for the Pedersen family.” Folkschurch?

Most of the boys of the Churchill Club attended Aalborg Cathedral School, presumably a Christian private school?

Knud Pedersen: “Each Sunday morning Jens and I practiced shooting the guns in the gigantic open loft at the top of the monastery during father’s church services. We would lie on our stomachs, waiting for the music to swell, and when it did we’d blast away, firing at targets positioned in the hay on the other side of the loft.” So the boys didn’t attend church services?

Pedersen on Christmas in prison: “I wanted to cry, but I had forgotten how. I finally discovered that by softly singing Christmas songs in my cell at night I could make the tears flow down my cheeks. I sang every song I knew and wept the whole next day.”

Knud Pedersen, describing the end of the war for him: “Father distributed hymnals. I ended the war at the monastery chapel just a few meters away from the room in which the Churchill Club was born–singing hymns with the men of my K Company group. I was eighteen.”

Knud’s brother, Jens, “struggled with depression.” “He died in a hospital after a very unhappy life.”

After the war, Knud Pedersen wrote a memoir about the Churchill Club. His father, “Edvard Pedersen, arranged to have a secretary type the finished manuscript, but—unbeknownst to Knud and his club mates–he had the typist cross out all the curse words just before publication. This angered the group when they finally saw the book.”

These ghosts/hints are interesting for what is not mentioned: no prayer, no consolation from remembered Scripture or Biblical truth, no Christ or Christian commitment. Judging from a quick skim of his blog, Mr. Hoose himself seems to have Buddhist sympathies, so it’s understandable that he would not be as interested in the Christian underpinnings or lack thereof of the Churchill Club and its members. But I was. Unfortunately, since Mr. Pedersen died in December of last year, 2014, I can’t ask him whether he rejected or found strength in the faith of his parents or what exactly that faith was.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler is a book about teen heroes, young men who decided that if the adults wouldn’t do anything for the honor of Denmark and the confusion of her enemy, the German invaders, they would. As such it’s an interesting and exciting portrait of youthful zeal and even foolhardiness which can sometimes trump an adult over-abundance of caution and planning. I just would have liked to know more about the boys’ foundational thinking, about what motivated them and sustained them, or didn’t sustain them, through prison and life after the war.

Down Ryton Water by E.R. Gaggin

Down Ryton Water is a 1942 Newbery Honor book about the Pilgrims–published back when children’s books were really meaty and challenging reads. It’s 369 pages of pilgrim wanderings and family building and moving and rearranging and traveling and birthing and marrying.

The (sainted) Pilgrims come across as real people with personalities and foibles and humor and salty language (nothing that’s shocking for nowadays) and full lives. The book focuses on the Over family: Mother Orris Brode Over, a gardener and herbalist; Father Matt Over, a farmer; Young Matt, five years old as the story opens in Scrooby, England; and baby Remember, “the damp woman child” as Young Matt calls her. The family soon grows: Young Matt’s young uncle John Brode, an adopted orphan child named Winifrett, a new baby boy born in Holland and named for the Dutch St. Nicholas, and later a young Native American teen named Wisset, all join the Over family.

It’s a book about family and about continuity of that family amidst pilgrim upheavals and separations and reunions. I found it encouraging and full of wisdom nuggets:

Orris to Young Matt upon the occasion of the Overs leaving Scrooby for Holland: “Strangers and pilgrims on the earth. That’s what we are . . . Because pilgrims, my lad, are strangers in a strange land. And so will we be–and my poor simples! Pilgrims wander about the earth in search of the blessed vision that keeps ever out of reach, just ahead of them. . . . Our vision is a place to live where we may have freedom to think, freedom to worship, and freedom to dig in the muck once more.”

Uncle John, when the Pilgrims are leaving Holland: “Freedom must be earned; it must first be understood and then fought for. It must be forever guarded, lest it slip away. It is the most precious thing in life.”

William Bradford at the first Thanksgiving: “We have been in a race for life. But a halt must be made in such a race sometime. A halt to consider what has been accomplished with God’s help, and to give thanks to Him for His blessings. A halt for–for–well, for laughter and feasting and pleasantry. Both young and old need a bolus of merriment now and then to keep them in good health.”

When Young Matt is building himself a house, his uncle John tells him: “Get some beauty into the design! No dwelling is too simple for beauty! There’s a correctness for every need. In building, as in garments.”

This fictional family of Pilgrims, the Overs, shows young (and old) readers the vicissitudes of life in colonial America as the first Europeans came to settle in the New World. It would make a good November read aloud book for upper elementary or even middle school children. And for skilled readers in that age group who are interested in history, this book would also be a fascinating and challenging independent reading choice. The book is long and descriptive passages abound, so patience and a tolerance for such is required. I found it a good antidote to the internet-based reading that I often get accustomed to and have to wean myself from in order to read deeply and enjoy fully the reading that I do.

Erle Stanley Gardner and 5 Things That Made Me Happy Today


Over the weekend, I read four Perry Mason mysteries by Erle Stanley Gardner. I think I needed to de-tox from reading so much about the “roaring twenties” and Warren G. Harding’s infidelities and his lack of common ethical sense. Perry Mason only flirts and skirts the edges of legality, unlike Mr. Harding who was apparently juggling multiple mistresses while he was in the Senate and while he occupied the White House.

What did I read?
The Case of the Nervous Accomplice. Sybil Harlan hatches a plot to bring her wandering husband back to the fold by throwing a monkey wrench in the business deal he and his paramour are working. But then another party to the deal ends up dead, and Sybil is the obvious suspect. This one was pretty good, and I didn’t see any obvious holes or issues.

The Case of the Careless Kitten. The behavior of a kitten is the main clue that resolves the murder mystery. This story is OK, but there is a a minor character, used as a red herring, who is a Japanese (or possibly Korean) “houseboy.” He is written as a stereotypical “sinister Japanese” character, which since the book was published in 1942, right after Pearl Harbor, is not surprising. It’s a wonder he wasn’t made more sinister–even portrayed as a spy or something worse. But the racist treatment of the character is rather jarring to this contemporary reader’s ear.

The Case of the Vagabond Virgin. At the end, the denouement, of this story the solution is either wonky or I didn’t understand. The murderer uses the victim’s car as a getaway car, drives it to Vegas, leaves it there, and flies back to LA. But neither the police nor Mason seem to have noticed throughout the entire book that the victim’s car was missing. That doesn’t make sense to me.

The Case of the Crooked Candle. Too technical for me, with not enough emphasis on characters. The case hinges on a complicated timeline and high tide and low tide and the burning of a candle in a leaning boat. But I don’t know why anyone would leave a candle burning on a table in a houseboat containing a murdered man.

So, I took a break from true and sordid history to read about not-so-true or even true-to-life murder mysteries. Now I think I’m ready to go back to the twenties and see how Florence Harding manage to deal with her husband’s death and his loss of reputation afterwards.

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Per the ever-inspiring Melissa Wiley, here are five things that made me smile today (Thank you, Lord, and thanks, Melissa, for the idea.):

1. Listening to Read Aloud Revival, Episode 10, with Heidi Scovel of Mt. Hope Chronicles. It’s just so encouraging to hear people talking about their love of books and reading and classic literature.

2. Chocolate-covered cherry Bluebell ice cream.

3. Reading Gulliver’s Travels with my almost 16-year old and discussing as we read. What was Swift trying to say about England in his story about the tiny Lilliputians of his imagination? And why is his story filed with scatological references that will fascinate and amuse the high school students (boys) in her homeschool literature class?

4. A new family joined my library.

5. Reading half of the book Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems to one of the children in that new library family, and then getting a hug from the child as the family went out the door. Happy Pig Day to me, too.

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