Summer by Edith Wharton

Summer by Edith Wharton (published 1917) is a short novella about a young woman searching for her place. In some places, it’s been cited as Wharton’s most “erotic” work1. Charity Royall does come to her own sexual awakening over the course of a summer, but Wharton writes about Charity’s choices without too much sexual reference. To me, the book seemed to focus even more on a young woman’s realization that she can make her own choices for her life, that she is an individual. The end, then, was somewhat problematic for me, although probably quite accurate in terms of a young woman making choices.Continue Reading

  1.  In a 1917 sense, that may be so. There is little “erotic” from a modern stand point beyond some symbolism, like the firecrackers during the first kiss. It would be interesting to find all the potentially “erotic” things in the book, but really, it’s very tame book

(Kids Corner) Some Cybils 2011 Books about … Friends

I Must Have Bobo! By Ellen Rosenthal and illustrated by Marc Rosenthal (Atheneum, January 2011) tells of a different kind of friendship. Young Willy wakes up only to find that his dear sock monkey Bobo is missing! He is found, much to Willy’s relief, as the boy cannot get through his day without Bobo. But as Willy and Bobo play, the sneaky cat repeatedly sneaks off with Bobo. Raisin and I loved this story: Raisin because he loved finding Earl stealing Bobo on each page, myself because the simple illustrations show just how less can be more. The most important things are colored in the illustrations (Willy, Bobo, that silly Earl) and the rest is left in sketch, a way of imitating a young child’s life when really, only a few things matter all that much. Raisin could relate to Willy’s dependence on Bobo. Bobo and Willy are great friends, much as, I suspect, Raisin is such great friends with his imaginary friend Goldbug, who is always by his side. (Nominated by Kara Schaff Dean)

Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Carmen Segovia (Sterling, January 2011) is partly a Groundhog Day book and partly a most unusual story about a groundhog and a fox becoming friends.  When Brownie appears on February 2, she’s welcomed by a deep snow. She’s of course bothered by the residual winter, but knows she must be patient: Spring will come. Meanwhile, the fox is very hungry and wants to eat Brownie. As Brownie encourages his patience by getting a few things done first (like ice skating), Fox begins to have fun playing with Brownie.  By the end, they both are willing to wait for spring, because there is plenty of fun to be had with each other as friends. I love the soft illustrations in the white wintery landscape, and I found the friendship that developed and the reminder to be “patient” a spectacular and memorable one. (Nominated by Jone MacCulloch)

Mudkin by Stephen Gammell (Carolrhoda, April 2011) is an clever book about an imaginary friend, in this case, one that comes from playing in the mud. A little girl discovers a mud creature called Mudkin who invites her to his castle where she will be queen. Although there is little text (Mudkin does not speak English but actually in muddy smudges), the story celebrates imagination. I loved the muddy illustrations and loved the overall effect of the story. Raisin liked it, and I suspect older children may grasp the imaginative aspects of the story more readily than Raisin did. As an adult, I loved it. Raisin needed some prompting to understand it.  (Nominated by Elizabeth Dingmann)

Perfect Soup by Lisa Moser and illustrated by Ben Mantle (Random House, October 2010) tells the simple story of Murray the mouse that wants to make “perfect soup.” When he finds himself short a carrot, he tries to borrow one from someone else but the farmer wants him to help in order to “earn” the carrot. One thing leads to another and it takes all day to do chores for others in order to get his carrot. In the end, the lonely snowman gives him a gift, and Murray learns from the snowman that giving something without expecting something is what friends do: and soup doesn’t need a carrot to be perfect. (Nominated by JoAnn Early Macken)

Willow and the Snow Day Dance by Dennise Brennan-Nelson and illustrated by Cyd Moore (Sleeping Bear Press, November 2010) tells of a bright and pleasant girl who organizes community events to bring people together, including the grouchy Mr. Larch. When Willow dreams about snow, Mr. Larch tells her how to do a snow day dance. When it does snow, he welcomes the neighborhood kids to sled on his hill. This was an inspiring story of how one child made a difference in a community by being a friend to all. (Nominated by Lois Hulme)

In You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown (Little, Brown, September 2011), Lucy has decided that today she will make a new friend. However, as she approaches potential friends with that demand, she finds it much harder than she anticipated. Never fear, Lucy finds friendship when she least expects it. Peter Brown’s illustrations are well done and the message about friendship one that little children (like Raisin!) certainly need to learn. (Nominated by Laura Given)

Two Non-Cybils Nominated Books

I don’t want the other great books we’re reading to go by the wayside, so I wanted to mention two great Jan Thomas books. We loved Jan Thomas’s books a few months ago, so we have been looking for more. Raisin loves Rhyming Dust Bunnies. Friends Ed, Ned, Ted, and Bob are quite silly, but Bob’s quick thinking keeps them out of danger. On the other hand, in Here Comes the Big, Mean Dust Bunny! a grumpy dust bunny learns what it means to have a friend. Both books are silly and lots of fun for young kids. (Both published 2009)

RIP Short Story Monday: P.G. Wodehouse, L.P. Hartley, and Edith Wharton

This week’s short stories were fantastic. One was hilarious (bet you can guess which one) and two (the Wodehouse and the Hartley) seemed directly related to each other since they were both about writers of fiction. (Unfortunately, the stories I read this week are not in the public domain, so I can’t link to them for you.)

I don’t want to reveal too much about these three stories, so I’ll keep this brief. In P.G. Wodehouse’s “Honeysuckle Cottage” (written 1925), a London man, a writer of detective/thriller novels, inherits the country house of his now deceased aunt, who wrote romance novels. When he resides in the country home, however, he finds that it is haunted. I haven’t read much Wodehouse, but I know what I’ve read was funny, and this was no exception. The situation was ridiculous and I loved the haunted aspect of his life. Was this really happening or was it coincidence? At any rate, Wodehouse’s tone is light and fun, and the story was an enjoyable read. I love this type of ghost story! (Story not in the public domain.)

L.P. Hartley’s “W.S.” (published 1952) is also about a writer. In his case, the author begins receiving mysterious notes from an unknown person named W.S. As his anxiety increases, he begins to realize that he does know the identity of the man coming toward him – and he doesn’t want to meet him in person. While Wodehouse’s story was humorous, this one was intense. The ultimate resolution is a creepy one for the writer to consider. I greatly enjoyed this story, maybe because it wasn’t horrifically terrifying, just a bit creepy. (Story not in the public domain.)

Edith Wharton’s “The Looking Glass” (published 1937?) goes a different direction, focusing on interaction through a medium with a dead person. One woman, a massage therapist, takes advantage of her rich employer, who is obsessed with how old she looks and spends hours looking in the mirror every day. Using her power of persuasion, the massage therapist convinces the old woman that she can communicate with the dead; as the old woman begins looking younger, the therapist begins to have some supernatural interactions that she didn’t quite expect.  I must admit that Wharton’s story did not stand out to me this week. I’ve greatly enjoyed Wharton’s writing in the past, and in fact I recently finished a novella by Wharton that I liked, but this story just didn’t have enough creepiness or satisfaction. It was just an okay story. Maybe I felt that way because the other two stories I read this week were simply fantastic. (Story not in the public domain.)

Which of these stories have you read? Have you read other stories by these authors? Which did you like?

Press Here by Herve Tullet

When I first picked up Press Here by Herve Tullet (Handprint Books, March 2011), I was unimpressed. It is a book with dots on every page. What’s so creative about that? I scratched my head, wondering why this picture book got such raving reviews. Then I introduced it to my four-year-old. Raisin loved it, and he couldn’t resist showing it to Grandma and Grandpa when they came to visit. At one point, there were three adults and one preschooler surrounding the book, all of us blowing on the pages, then clapping frantically, and laughing the whole time.

I looked around at the delighted faces in the little circle and realized: this is a genius of a book.

It’s a game in the form of a book. Like a book app, Press Here builds on the reader’s action. You are instructed to press the dot, and the next page shows new dots. You are to shake the book, and the next page shows that the dots have come out of their lines. You are told to blow on the dot and the next page shows a dot blown off center. Because it is a book, you could of course choose not follow the instructions and therefore laugh when you see it doesn’t matter. But for a young child (and, apparently, at least three adults), it’s fun how the instructions bring the reader into the book. Raisin wanted to read it again and again.

And to tell you the truth, I didn’t mind.

(Nominated for the Cybils by Deb Marshall)

What did you think of Press Here?