March 20, 2010

What Have I Been Reading?

Posted in Book Reviews, Picture Books at 7:17 pm by catsinboxes

In a conversation last night, I was asked that very question.  My brain seemed to stop as I thought back over the past few weeks.  What have I been reading?  Things have been so ridiculously busy I have had hardly any time for reading.  A few of my mysteries have been beckoning, and I would love to escape between the pages of a book, but there’s simply too much to do.

So, as far a pleasure reading goes, I haven’t been reading.  (And that’s the sort of book you would usually bring up in a conversation.)

For school, I have been reading, and most of that reading has been read aloud with the little people.  We have read books about deserts, astronomy, poetry, history, mythology, and picture books.

For fun, and because I want to, I will highlight a few of these books below and some anecdotes we have had about them.

On the 16th, I felt it would be good to read a little about St. Patrick’s Day.  So, I pulled out a handy book:  Shamrocks, Harps , and Shillelaghs: The Story of St. Patrick’s Day Symbols.

When I cheerfully informed the little people what we would be reading about, Benjamin inquired dubiously, “Why should we read about something we don’t even celebrate?”  I then and there resolved to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  And I did, in a way, by making a dessert with bright green icing.  The book itself was pretty interesting, with a good account of the known life of St. Patrick.

Then, following a “European” theme, a new favorite is D’Aulaires’ Trolls.

It is a rather interesting cover, isn’t it?  We have had this book for a long time, but it’s become popular over the past few weeks.   The writing is excellent and the pictures are wonderful.

Skipping across the pond, back to America, there are several books worth highlighting.

First, and one of Jonathan’s favorites at the moment, is They Were Strong and Good by Robert Lawson.

Like the D’Aulaires’, Lawson combines wonderful prose with beautiful pictures.  What is it about?  I’ll quote the forward.

This is the story of my mother and my father and of their fathers and mothers.

Most of it I heard as a little boy, so there may be many mistakes; perhaps I have forgotten or mixed up some of the events and people.  But that does not really matter, for this is not alone the story of my parents and grandparents, it is the story of the parents and grandparents of most of us who call ourselves Americans.

Isn’t that beautiful?  The following story is simple, but wonderful.  I don’t think it would ruin the story to quote the conclusion too.  I love reading it out loud . . .

I am proud of my mother and my father and of their mothers and fathers.  And I am proud of the country that they helped to build.

So am I.  It is so easy, in times like these to lose sight of how wonderful our country is.  It is easy to be swept up in shaking our heads and wondering what will happen next.  We forget our country’s history … We forget our grandparents, our great-grandparents, all the people who have made our country great.  Why should we just shake our heads?  This is America!   We can change our country.  I know that word has been used as a catch-phrase.  But we can’t forget that we can make a difference.  Despite the times we are in, despite all the uncertainty, this book reminds me of everything wonderful about our country.

And all of those thoughts provoked by one picture book!

In closing, I will highlight one more picture book I have been reading.  I call it a picture book, but really it is an illustrated poem.  Paul Revere’s Ride illustrated by Paul Galdone, is a consistent read aloud favorite.

It is written (to insert a quick poetical term) in anapestic foot.  That means that its rhythm when read is two weak stresses followed by a strong one.  It is often used in poetry to tell a story or narrate events.  To demonstrate:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Does that make sense?  Can you think of any other poems that are anapestic?  (Hint, think Christmas)

I love the conclusion of Paul Revere’s Ride.  It’s very stirring and patriotic, but it doesn’t quite make sense.

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!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beat of that steed,
And the midnight-message of Paul Revere.

The gist of it, I believe, is that people will be roused to action when their liberty is threatened.  But, of course, it would defeat the poem by merely stating that!

That, in detail, is what I have been reading.  Do you understand why I couldn’t explain it in a conversation?


March 7, 2010

The Thirty-Nine Steps

Posted in England, Movie Reviews, Scotland at 2:56 am by catsinboxes

I always love to know what other people think about movies I’m interested in, so now I will return the favor.  (Not that I know that you are interested in The Thirty-Nine Steps, but if the above picture hasn’t piqued your interest, I don’t know what will!)

Rupert Penry-Jones, known to Jane Austen fans for his role as Captain Wentworth in Masterpiece Theater’s adaptation of Persuasion, plays Richard Hannay, an engineer in London, recently returned from South Africa.  Hannay is a bit bored with life until a twist of fate involves him with Scudder, an English spy who claims that he has obtained information of vital importance to the security of Britain.  However, before Scudder can reveal much more, he is murdered and Hannay implicated with the crime.

Left with Scudder’s  mysterious cipher notebook, Hannay finds himself fleeing both police and Scudder’s own assassins, who are determined to obtain the notebook at any cost.  His only hope in proving his innocence is to discover Scudder’s cipher and prove his theory correct.  Hannay’s quest takes him to Scotland, where a young suffragette, Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard), becomes embroiled in his search.  I won’t say any more, for fear of spoiling something.

Rupert Penry-Jones makes an excellent Hannay.  He’s tall and good looking which is always a must, if possible, for any adventure figure excepting Sean Bean, my favorite villain.  I like Penry-Jones much better in this role than as the brooding, petty Captain Wentworth of Masterpiece’s much-too-short and rushed Persuasion.

This is the third adaption of The Thirty-Nine Steps that I have watched, and I believe it is the closest to the book.  While in the book itself, there is no main female character, all three movies add one.  I think Victoria is the most interesting and multi-dimensional female compared to the two other love-interests in the previous movies.  The dialogue between Victoria and Hannay is delightful, a sort of Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy exchange fast-forwarded to 1914.  My only quibble, without giving away anything, is that I find the spin at the end of the movie a little too far-fetched and unrealistic.

The filming and scenery of the Scottish Highlands is excellent, and both Kelsey and I enjoyed the music.  The film is rated PG.  Language is minimal; I caught a couple profanities and at least one “damn.”  There is also mild innuendo, but nothing is implied, unlike Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers.

Overall, if you feel like enjoying a nice British adventure, I would certainly recommend The Thirty-Nine Steps as long as you realize, and don’t mind, the above-mentioned cautions.  If you are interested, it can be watched online through March 30th at:

What I would love to see is Masterpiece Theater continuing the Hannay series with Greenmantle, John Buchan’s sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps . . . maybe they will.  I personally think that Rupert Penry-Jones and Lydia Leonard would make a perfect Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane pair; they’re even the right ages in real life!  But that would be another story altogether . . .