A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Supposedly, Jules Verne is, in France, considered a “travel and adventure” writer, and is considered one of the great French authors, along with Zola, Hugo, and Dumas. Although I don’t consider him one of the greatest authors I’ve read, I have no doubt that Jules Verne is a great author, and well deserving of his “classic” status. The splendor of his writing may have been lost in translation.

His novels are amazingly inventive creations, a mix of science and fantasy. I am not generally interested in science fiction, but Jules Verne I can read and enjoy. Many name him the father of science fiction, and I definitely can see him as an influence on later writers. In general, I really like Jules Verne’s books because they feel like classics “light.” The stories are simply fun, and the prose is not challenging to read for the most part (although some of his book gets science heavy in parts). As for the science fiction aspects of some of his novels, they truly do make for a fun adventure!

A Journey to the Center of the Earth (originally published 1864 in French) was our book for this month’s book club, and we all enjoyed it, though few of us considered it a favorite classic.Continue Reading

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevens

Miss Buncle is an aging old maid in a boring town in the suburbia of London, 1930s. When she finds herself in need of funds, she decides to earn some money by writing a novel. Miss Buncle’s book causes waves in the careful social fabric of the small town because she has written about the people she knows, albeit with different names, of course. Those who have not been portrayed nicely certainly do not appreciate the caricatures by the anonymous “John Smith” and vow to find out who has written the book. As Miss Buncle watches the chaos, she can only find inspiration for more fiction!

Miss Buncle’s Book (to be published September 2012 by Sourcebooks; originally published 1934) by D.E. Stevens is a laugh-out-loud experiences as one considers proper and shy Miss Buncle overhauling her small town’s social order. It is in part an humorous portrayal of the old-fashioned traditions in a tight-knit community of the early twentieth century as well as a mingling of various amusing personalities. But it also seemed to me to have a deeper perspective on self-realization. As some of the people of the town viewed themselves through the caricatured view of the unknown author, they changed their own actions: the “mean” person tried to be more kind; the old bachelor allowed himself to think in terms of falling in love, and even shy Miss Buncle found herself loosening up. (Did she really leave the tea party without politely excusing herself?!) If I were in a novel, how would I be portrayed? What faults and strengths would be caricatured in myself?

I was delighted to see that Sourcebooks is republishing this lost classic (to be published in September). It has been previously republished overseas by Persephone Books, and it was about time that it made it’s way to America as well! People who enjoy the humor of The Help by Kathryn Stockett or those who enjoy a look at a small town community, such as that in the much older Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, may also enjoy this book. It is, after all, a book about a woman writing a book about a woman writing a book. Satire abounds, but there is also plenty of subtlety hiding amidst the humor.

Note: I read a digital copy from the publisher via netgalley.com for review consideration. I was not compensated for this review.

Kids Corner: Learning about Africa through Picture Books

Somehow, in our “school at home” this summer, we missed reading any interesting picture books about Europe. We did an activity together and learned about the geography and countries via an atlas and a puzzle, but we didn’t read picture books about it. Do you have any suggestions for fiction or interesting nonfiction about Europe? Raisin has decided that Italy is his favorite country because it’s shaped like a boot.

On the other hand, we moved on to Africa. Our study focused on learning the basic geography of the continent as well as general habitats (i.e., dry desert, Savannahs, and rain forests) and the animals in each habitat. Raisin is well into early readers these days (more about his favorite fiction in the future) and we enjoyed finding a few nonfiction early readers that he enjoyed about Africa.Continue Reading

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (originally published serially in 1910) is a book full of memories for me. When I was a young girl, I recall staying home, sick, from school one day. My mom took our copy of The Secret Garden down off the shelf, and, just for me, she began reading it aloud.

The day when I brought my newborn daughter Strawberry home from the hospital, I pulled my copy down and began reading it aloud to her. She was about four days old. I read it during those first months when I was in a daze of sleep deprivation. I read it as I helped her calm down for the night. I read it more recently as our bedtime story. I finally finished it for her last week, when she was 5.5 months old.

The Secret Garden is a book about the magic of positive thinking. Burnett takes two cantankerous, negative, and spoiled children and places them together in a new setting: a garden that needs a bit of TLC in order to bloom back in to the beautiful and magnificent haven it once was. With a loveable animal charmer child, young Dickon, the children learn the power of positive thinking and experience the benefits of hard work in the open air. As sour orphan Mary Lennox and her invalid cousin Colin Craven resuscitate the seemingly dead garden and put in a bit of work, they too begin to blossom into pleasant people.Continue Reading