Lad, a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune

What books do you recommend to fans of James Herriot’s wonderful animal stories about a veterinarian in Yorkshire? I’m not much of an animal lover or an animal story reader, although I do like the Herriot books, so I had only a very short list in my head of books that might appeal to animal-loving readers. Now, I can add Lad, a Dog to that short list.

The stories in Lad, and they are, like those in the Herriot books, separate stories tied together by continuing characters, are about a collie dog owned by a gentleman farmer in New Jersey. Lad, a sort of composite of all of the collies owned by Terhune over the years, lives on The Place and follows The Law of obedience and loyalty to The Master and Mistress. When he’s not being brave and clever, Lad likes to chase squirrels and lord it over the other collies on The Place. The stories in the book are sometimes a little repetitious, about the evils of dog shows and the intelligence and doggy excellence of Lad the collie, but each story showcases a little bit of a different aspect of Lad’s character and of the joys of owning a superlative dog like Lad.

Mr. Terhune wrote in the early part of the twentieth century. Lad was first published in 1919, and it’s set during World War I. But the stories are timeless, appealing to dog lovers and even to animal-averse people like me. (I like my pets safely penned inside books where they can’t poop or pee in my house. Unfortunately, my children have foisted upon me two cats and a dog who all reside in my domicile.)

My favorite animal stories (other than James Herriot’s books, which are the best ever) are:
The Incredible Journey by Sheila Branford. (two dogs and a cat)
Born Free by Joy Adamson. (a lioness)
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson. (dog story)
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. (horse racing)
Rascal by Sterling North. (a raccoon)
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. (horse)
Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. (falcon and other woodland creatures)
Rain Reign by Ann Martin. (dog)
That’s nine, plus one I think I want to read: H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
No talking animals or fantasy animals included, and I prefer books in which the dog doesn’t die, although some of the above break that rule.

What true or true-to-life dog stories or animal stories would you recommend for children or adults?

Noah Webster: Man of Many Words by Catherine Reef

One of my pet peeves about contemporary nonfiction books for teens and tweens is that the authors seem compelled to share all the interesting tidbits and rabbit trails from their research in sidebar boxed text or sometimes even entire pages of boxed text asides. These text boxes break up the flow of the narrative, and they annoy the heck out of me when I’m reading. I can’t resist reading them to see what I might be missing, and I’m almost always sorry that I did because I lose track the story at hand.

Catherine Reef’s biography of Noah Webster avoids the text box pitfall, and she includes all the extra material she researched on the American Revolution and the writing of the Constitution and early American life and politics in the narrative itself. I could read about the ratification of the U.S. Constitution as I read about Noah Webster’s opinions about the Constitution. And no text boxes were inserted to aggravate and sidetrack my reading. So, score one for this biography.

The narrative itself was well-written and interesting, and the illustrations were well-placed in old-fashioned frames which complemented and didn’t interrupt the story. Unfortunately, the size of the book itself, about 8″ x 10″, was awkward and made it somewhat difficult to read in bed or even in a comfortable chair. This size seems to be popular these days for nonfiction tomes, but I’m not a fan.

This biography for young adult and middle school readers is 171 pages long and gives a full picture of Noah Webster and his times and his influence on the American language, education, and government. The author mentions Webster’s conversion, as an adult, to a renewed, or perhaps new, faith in the God of his forefathers, but she does seem rather perplexed and detached about the meaning of all that religious talk on Webster’s part.

“Noah blocked himself off from the din of life by packing the walls of his study with sand. Yet there was one voice he found impossible to keep out: the one he believed belonging to God.
One morning in April 1808 , he was alone in his study. ‘A sudden impulse upon my mind arrested me,’ he said. ‘I instantly fell on my knees, confessed my sins to God, implored him pardon, and made my vows to him that . . . I would live in entire obedience to his service.’ The next day he called his family together and led them in prayer, as he would do three times a day for the rest of his life.”

One can almost hear in the background the biographer’s thoughts of “how quaint and colonial–believing that one can hear the voice of God!” I would have liked to know more about how Noah Webster’s April awakening and commitment to obey the voice of God impacted his life and changed his actions, other than prayer three times a day. The book does tell us that his new found faith caused a rift in his friendship with one Joel Barlow, an old crony who was also an atheist and a poet. Webster reneged on his promise to review Mr. Barlow’s latest poem because the poem was not in keeping with Noah Webster’s newfound Christian convictions. And late in his life, Noah Webster attempted a revision of the King James Version of the Bible, but the Webster version was not a commercial success. That’s about all we learn from this biography about Mr. Webster’s faith and his practice of that faith. Maybe that’s all there is to know.

At any rate, I find that juvenile biographies are a wonderful introduction to people and events of the past. I am inspired to read more about Noah Webster and perhaps get answers to the questions I have left after reading this biography. Ms. Reef’s bibliography lists other biographies of Mr. Webster:

The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and Creation of an American Culture by Joshua Kendall.
Noah Webster and the American Dictionary by David Micklethwait.
Noah Webster by John S. Morgan.
The Life and Times of Noah Webster, an American Patriot byy Harlow Giles Unger.
Noah Webster, Schoolmaster in America by Harry R. Warfel.

I am intrigued enough that I might want to try one of these five biographies. Any suggestions as to which one?

Called for Life by Kent and Amber Brantly

Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic by Kent and Amber Brantly, with David Thomas.

I’ll start out by telling what I missed in this story by Ebola survivor Kent Brantly and his wife, Amber. There’s nothing in the book about how Mr. and Mrs. Brantly came to know the Lord, nothing about their childhood, or their growth as Christ-followers, except in relation to their missionary commitment. I would have liked to have read more about each one of the couple’s initial salvation experience as a sort of a background to their experiences in Liberia. However, this book is not the book for that.

What this book does do well is tell the story of how Kent and Amber Brantly ended up in Liberia on the frontline of the fight against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. And it tells in detail how Kent Brantly contracted Ebola himself and how he survived the virus that killed so many people in Liberia and in other West African countries. In the book, Brantly also gives God the credit for saving his life, while acknowledging that many people and circumstances came together to make it possible for him to receive expert medical care and treatment.

I was intrigued learn of the many factors that converged to make Mr. Brantley’s survival and healing possible and of the heroic actions of many missionary doctors and nurses and Liberian national doctors and healthcare workers in their team effort to combat the Ebola outbreak. It’s a good, inspiring story, and it made a good antidote to the darkness of the news story of death and destruction in Paris that dominated this past weekend’s newsfeed. I admire Kent Brantly and his fellow Ebola survivor, Nancy Writebol, even more than I did before reading this account of their faith in God and their tenacious fight against Ebola.

I recommend Called for Life. I needed some contemporary heroes to restore my hope, and I imagine you do, too.

Three More Words by Ashley Rhodes Courter

The sequel to the inspiring memoir, Three Little Words.

I think I would have enjoyed this memoir more if had read Ms. Rhodes-Courter’s first book, about her life as an abused foster child and then as an adopted child in a loving family. I found out what her “three little words” were: “I guess so”, spoken in response to the judge’s question at her adoption hearing about whether or not Ashley wanted to be adopted by her prospective parents. I never did figure out what the “three more words” were. I love you? I forgive you? I’m all grown?

Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention. While the stories in the book about Ms. Rhodes-Courter and her husband, Erick, and their adventures as foster parents were interesting, the rest of the book, about the ongoing drama with Ashley and her birth family felt a little self-indulgent, as if the author were trying to work out her psychological baggage by spilling it all in a book. Heaven knows, as a blogger, I’m not one to begrudge anyone the space and the words to write out their angst and issues, but I did feel by the end of the book as if I knew kind of more than I needed or wanted to know about Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s dysfunctional birth family.

However, the parts about the foster care system and the foster children that Ashley and her family were able to care for (and sometimes return to their own dysfunctional or abusive families) were both fascinating and heart-rending. It seems to me that no matter how many new, well-intentioned laws and rules and regulations we put into place to try to protect children and place them in safe and loving homes, it’s very difficult for bureaucrats to take care of children. Either there are too many fingers in the pie or not enough. And every one is protecting his or her own turf, has his or her own interests and opinions, wants what’s best for the child, yes, if it follows the rules and makes me look or feel good. I don’t have the answers, but I do see the problems.

And a BIG elephantine part of the “problem” involves drugs and alcohol. I don’t drink alcohol or take any drugs, and although I don’t think you’re a bad person if you have a drink once or twice a week, I do fail to see the attraction. Why wouldn’t our entire society be better off if God had never given us the “gift of wine, to make the heart merry.” (He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate– bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts. Psalm 104:14-15) I just don’t think I’ve missed much in not drinking alcohol, and I really think that a lot of the child neglect and abuse would be non-existent if there were no such things as intoxicating and mind-altering substances.

It’s one of those questions I’m going to ask the Lord someday in heaven. Like, why did He create cockroaches?

Anyway, good memoir, if you like that sort of book, but you’ll probably wan to read Three Little Words first.

Historical Fiction and Nonfiction: Seventeenth Century Europe

Last week I reviewed several books set during World War War II. This week my book travels have taken me to seventeenth century Europe. I haven’t read every single one of the following books, but I can generally recommend either the book or the author.

What have you read that is set in seventeenth century Europe, either England or the continent? About Puritans, Cavaliers, Cromwell, the two Charleses and two Jameses, Louis XIII and Louis XIV, the Sun King, metaphysical poets, English civil war, philosophy, pirates, astronomy, physics, fables(La Fontaine) and fairy tales(Perrault), slavery, and religious upheaval?

Children’s and Young Adult Fiction:
The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes. c.1630. England. Newbery Award book.
I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. Early 1600’s. Spain. Newbery Award book about the painter Diego Velasquez and his slave and friend, Juan de Pareja.
Down Ryton Water by E.R. Gaggin. 1620. Half in Europe, and half in the New World. The book gives a good picture of life for the Pilgrims in England and in Holland before their removal to the New World. Newbery Honor book.
The Walls of Cartagena by Julia Durango. 1639. Cartagena, Colombia. Reviewed at Book Nut.
Campion Towers by John and Patricia Beatty. 1640’s. England. A Puritan girl, Penitence, is transplanted from New England to the England of Cromwell and Charles II.
The Children of the New Forest by Frederick Marryat. 1647. England. The four Royalist Beverley children are orphaned during the English civil war, and they hide from the Roundheads in the New Forest where they learn to live off the land.
Lark by Sally Watson. 1651. England. Lark is a pert, lively, likable girl who, rather than marry her unpleasant Puritan cousin, runs away from home.
Cast Off by Eve Yohalem. 1663. Amsterdam to the East Indies.
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands. 1665. London, England. Apothecaries being targeted in London.
A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh. 1665. Village of Eyam, Derbyshire, England. The plague quarantines an entire village.
Master Cornhill by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. 1665-1666. London, England. An orphan boy lives through the Great Fire of London.
Pirate Royal by John and Patricia Beatty. 167?. London, Bristol, Cuba, Jamaica, Venezuela. Young Anthony Grey is kidnapped from a Boston tavern and impressed into service with the notorious pirate Henry Morgan.
Huguenot Garden by Douglas M. Jones III. 1685. La Rochelle, France.

Adult Fiction:
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. 1625. Mostly France and sometimes England.
The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge. 16??. The love story of Lucy Walter and Charles II.
The King’s General by Daphne duMaurier. 1642-1656. Devon/Cornwall, England during the English Civil War.
The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliffe. 1642-1656. England during the English Civil War.
Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas. 1645-1650. France.
The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas. 1660-1667. France. (includes Louise de la Vallière, and The Man in the Iron Mask.)
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. 1665-1666. England.
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne duMaurier. c.1670. Cornwall, England.
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. 1685-1688. England and Barbados.
The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. by William Makepeace Thackeray. 1691-1718. England.

Children’s and Young Adult Nonfiction:
Along Came Galileo by Jeanne Bendick. 1564-1642. Italy.
A Piece of the Mountain: The Story of Blaise Pascal by Joyce McPherson. 1623-1662. France.
The Flight and Adventures of Charles II by Charles Norman. 1642-1688. England.
The Ocean of Truth: The Story of Sir Isaac Newton by Joyce McPherson. 1643-1727. England.

Adult Nonfiction:
A Coffin for King Charles: The Trial and Execution of Charles I by C.V. Wedgwood. 1648-1649. England.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. 1691. Paris, France.
Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees by Peter Kreeft. Blaise Pascal, philosopher and mathematician, lived from 1623 to 1662.
The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton.
Religio Medici by Thomas Browne. 1652.

Seventeenth Century Poets:
George Herbert
John Donne
Richard Lovelace
John Milton
Henry Vaughan
Isaac Watts
Jean de la Fontaine.

The Flight and Adventures of Charles II by Charles Norman

This Landmark history book is not the best example of the series, nor is it bad. The narrative could have afforded to be a little more narrative, if you know what I mean. More story, fewer travelogue facts about where Charles ran to next. But it’s still a great improvement on the history books from nowadays with little boxes of facts all over the pages and no story at all. And although I searched at Amazon, I couldn’t find any books for children that told this story about Charles II and the English civil war and restoration at all.

The illustrations are delightful. The illustrator, C. Walter Hodges, won the annual Greenaway Medal for British children’s book illustration in 1964. He illustrated many, many children’s books in the mid twentieth century, including Ian Serraillier, Rosemary Sutcliff (The Eagle of the Ninth), Rhoda Power (Redcap Runs Away), and Elizabeth Goudge (The Little White Horse). Mr. Hodges also wrote books of his own and was an expert on Shakespeare, particularly Shakespeare’s theater. The book he won the Greenaway Medal for was called Shakespeare’s Theater. It’s a really lovely book, and I’m pleased to be able to say that I have a copy in my library.

To get back to Charles II, the Earl of Rochester is said to have composed an epigram about the rather frivolous king:

Here lies our sovereign lord, the King,
Whose word no man relies on;
Who never said foolish thing,
And never did a wise one.

Charles’ response: “Od’s fish! That is easily accounted for–my words are my own, my actions those of my ministers.”

He sounds just like some current day politicians I’ve heard–disclaim responsibility, and blame everything on the minor bureaucrats.

Unlikely Warrior by Georg Rauch

Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army by Georg Rauch.

Because Austrian Georg Rauch had a Jewish grandmother, making him one quarter Jewish blood (whatever that means), he was not made an officer in the army of the Third Reich. However, Rauch’s Jewish ancestry didn’t prevent him from being drafted into the German army and sent as a radio operator to the Russian front. Rauch wasn’t a Nazi nor was he in sympathy with Hitler’s political views or his plan for European domination. But that lack of patriotic enthusiasm didn’t keep nineteen year Georg Rauch from being expected to serve the Fuehrer and fight for the cause of Germany.

It must be World War 2 week here at Semicolon; it seems I’ve unintentionally been reading quite a few books set during that cataclysmic war. On Sunday I reviewed FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marrin. On Monday, I told you about my pastor’s World War 2 novel, We Never Stood Alone, about the inhabitants of the English village of Stokeley and their more personal crises during the first years of the war. Yesterday I wrote about the young adult adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand best-selling and eye-opening biography of Louis Zamperini, Unbroken. And now today we’re headed for the eastern front, in Ukraine and Romania, where the cruelties and atrocities were, according to Mr. Rauch, just as abominable as the things Zamperini had to endure in Japan and in the South Pacific. (Comparisons are odious, but sometimes inevitable.)

By 1943, again from Rauch’s point of view, the average German soldier on the eastern front knew that the Germans were losing the war. Rauch just hoped to survive long enough to be sent home when the Germans finally surrendered. Unfortunately for him, as the war was ending Rauch was captured by the Russians and spent a good year or more in successive Soviet labor camps before he managed to finagle a place on a train back to his homeland of Austria.

As I read this book and Zamperini’s story in Unbroken, I found it difficult to believe that men could survive such horrors and emerge sane or even alive. Many did not survive, and many more did not survive in spirit. I wonder if I have what it would take to survive in such horrendous circumstances, and I really doubt that I do. If I were ever confronted with such a crisis as the Christians of Syria and Iraq are living through now, I would have to depend on the Holy Spirit to sustain me or the Lord would have to take me, because I certainly don’t have it within me to endure such persecution.

I’m rather amazed that anyone does. Unlikely Soldier is a good book about a bad time. I recommend it to adults, young and old, who are interested in an unflinching look at the horrors of war from a unique perspective, that of an unwilling conscript in Hitler’s army.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive, Adapted for Young Adults by Laura Hillenbrand.

I first read Unbroken, the life history of Olympic runner and prisoner of war in Japan, Louis Zamperini, in 2011, about four years ago. I was astounded and moved by this man’s story then, and as I’ve read more about him since then, I continue to be an admirer of and and an advocate for Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken.

So, I read the young adult adaptation of one of my favorite books with both a desire to see it succeed and with some trepidation. It helps that this version of Unbroken was in capable hands, the hands of the original author Laura Hillenbrand herself. And honestly, although I could tell that the book had been shortened and that the text had been somewhat simplified, I couldn’t pinpoint anything that was left out. That makes for an excellent adaptation.

It also means that if you were looking for a book that leaves out all the violence and cruelty and general horror of Louis Zamperini’s stay in various Japanese prisoner of war camps, this book doesn’t do that. The book also doesn’t leave out Louis’s struggle with PTSD and his healing after the war as the movie version did. So, if your young adult, age twelve and above, wants a less intimidating version, i.e. fewer pages and no footnotes at the end, that still tells the whole story, this book will do the job. If your child is not ready for an introduction to the horrors of man’s inhumanity and cruelty, this book definitely won’t be a good choice.

Two of my own children read Unbroken (the adult version) while they were still in high school, and they found it accessible and absorbing. However, if your teen struggles with reading long books or just is in a time crunch, this young adult adaptation is well written and perfectly adequate. It’s not dumbed down, and the writing is still beautiful, detailed, and vivid.

I recommend Unbroken, either version, to just about anyone who’s interested in history or war or survival or World War 2 in particular or inspiring biography or the aftermath of war and the possibility of forgiveness. I’ll be looking for a copy of this young adult version to place in my library for younger teen readers.

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.

This Strange Wilderness by Nancy Plain

This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain.

I wanted to compare this biography to a few others that I would like to have in my library, but the truth is that I don’t have them. And my public library doesn’t have the following biographies of artist and ornithologist John James Audubon for children/young adults either:

Audubon by Constance Rourke. Harcourt, 1936. This book won a Newbery honor in 1937, the same year that Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer won the Newbery Award. Ms. Rourke wrote another biography, Davy Crockett, that won a Newbery Honor in 1935. I do have the latter book in my library, and it is quite engaging and readable.

John James Audubon by Margaret and John Kieran. This biography is No. 48 in the Landmark series of history books, and I would very much like to have a copy of it. John Kieran was a sportswriter, radio personality, and an avid bird watcher. He wrote this biography of Audubon with his wife, Margaret, also a journalist and an editor for the Boston Globe newspaper.

My public library does have the following books about Audubon for children:

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon (Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12) by Jacqueline Davies and Melissa Sweet. HMH, 2004. I like Melissa Sweet, but I haven’t seen this particular book.

Audubon: Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier by Jennifer Armstrong and Jos. A. Smith. Abrams, 2003. A picture book biography. It looks very nice with full color illustrations, some of them copied from Audubon’s paintings.

Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream by Robert Burleigh. Another picture book that focuses on Audubon’s failure as a shop-keeper and his decision to become an artist and wilderness explorer.

So, with all those options, why do we need another biography of john James Audubon for children or young adults?

Well, the first two titles are great and most likely well-written, but they were published quite a few years back, and they probably don’t have many examples of the art for which Mr. Audubon was most famous. This Strange Wilderness has many, many full color images of Audubon’s birds and other paintings, along with text that illuminates the man and his work.

On the other hand, the three picture books that are readily available are just that, picture books, not really adequate for older readers in middle school and high school who want to find out more about John James Audubon and his legacy. At 90 pages with lots of full page and half page illustrations, this bio is anything but exhaustive; however, it’s much more informative than the picture books referenced above. Any budding ornithologist would enjoy This Strange Wilderness along with Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now, a fiction title in which Audubon’s masterpiece, The Birds of America, plays a large role. Then, of course, a real bird-lover would need his or her very own copy of The Birds of America, available from Amazon in small (about $10.00), medium (about $30.00) and large sizes (over $100.00). Or the most famous of the paintings are reproduced in Ms. Plain’s book, so most readers might be content with it.

This Strange Wilderness is only available as a paperback or an ebook, but the paperback is a quality book, with a heavy cover and bound in signatures so that the pages fold back easily to allow one to see the full reproductions of the paintings.