Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Vintage reads

 

 

Anthropomorphic. What a mouthful! But many children’s stories are anthropomorphic. Simple definition: a literary device attributing mrs_frisby_and_the_rats_of_nimhhuman qualities to animals or objects. However, Robert  O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH an anthropomorphic story, is not merely fantasy. or in my mind, science fiction, because many of the human characteristics of the rats originated with a science experiment in a mental health laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Synopsis

Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse, seeks help from a band of odd-behaving rats who are extremely intelligent. As she becomes acquainted with them, she learns they escaped from the laboratory at NIMH. The rats help save her son’s life, and she in turn, is able to save theirs when danger hunts them down. I suppose that’s more of a hook than a synopsis, but I don’t want to give a whole lot away.

 

Because we have moved book reviews to the new website, you can see the pros and cons and more regarding the Rats of NIMH at scriblerians.com. You can read more details about the new site right here on the News Flash post.

 

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Christmas Hymns of Faith

With my day to post on Christmas Eve, I just couldn’t write about a favorite vintage book. December 24 is as much of a holy day on the Christian calendar as is Christmas Day. In fact, the two days together create a most holy time rivaled only by Holy Week leading up to Easter.


What better way to acknowledge this sacred time than to look at a few centuries-old hymns celebrating the birth of our Lord? I love at least a dozen, having sung them since I knew how to carry a tune. I’ve picked three.


“O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I fell in love with this melody in a minor key the first time I was allowed to attend the midnight Christmas Eve service. Within the lyrics, I recognized how the people ached for Messiah’s arrival. They mourned in lonely exile. They begged Him to end all envy, strife, and quarrels. I felt their pain, and at the same time, I was filled with joy. For Messiah came! He answered their prayers! And I reap the benefits of His arrival, and subsequent sacrifice, on earth.

credit to: dewthis.blogspot.com

“Angels We Have Heard on High.” Every verse is filled with the story of the angels proclaiming Christ’s birth: they appeared to the shepherds, the shepherds were jubilant, and they were invited to see the newborn Messiah for themselves. The final stanza invites all of us to find this joy for ourselves.

But it was the “Glorias” that hooked me. What a thrill to take a deep breath and then belt out “GLO—————-RIA!” My little girl worship soared to the heavens, and I knew Jesus was pleased. Kind of like what the Little Drummer Boy felt–but I’m not going to choose his song today.

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“Joy to the World!” This hymn is so familiar, I tend to take it for granted, but when I consider the words, oh my! The words are why we sing it so often! Be joyful! The Lord has come. Even the rocks cry out! He’s broken the curse! We have the best ruler the world has ever known or will ever know! And He loves us beyond what we can imagine. Lots of exclamation points. I don’t know how to skimp on exclamation points with such a hymn! One is even included in the title.
It’s certainly worth your time to go over the words in these hymns with your children. Each is an individual sermon.
Which hymn would you choose to share with your child in detail? And why?
Have a blessed Christmas!

The White Water Fountain: A Tale of Innocence Destroyed

Vintage reads

 

Last month I shared the childhood story of my education into the world of racial prejudice (The Colored Water Fountain: A Tale of Innocence). I told you it was a set-up for the book review in a future post. I decided to make it book reviews—two middle grade novels by Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry and Let the Circle Be Unbroken.

Middle-graders are ready to expand their horizons past their own homes and friends, to take on the deep questions of life and decide how they will choose to live. Taylor’s books are a great start in helping them examine the concept of prejudice.

roll-of-thunder

Set in the Depression Era, the books follow an African American family in the Deep South, poor in possessions but rich in love, who have the rare distinction of owning their land, much to the chagrin of the white plantation owners surrounding them.

Both stories are narrated by Cassie Logan. From her earliest memories, Cassie knows she must steer clear of trouble from whites because whenever there is a showdown, the Negroes lose. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry starts when Cassie is nine. The main story follows events leading up to the murder of a white man and ending with a black teenager wrongly convicted of the crime. As we read, we live what Cassie lives—her fears, her pride, and her anger at how unfair life is for black families.

We also see the white culture of the time—the raw power of the landowners, the hate and arrogance in the hearts of so many men, women, and children, and the woefully few who see the injustice. The last group lives between a rock and a hard place. If they try to stop the evil, night riders destroy their homes and livelihoods, and they lose every person who might have been called a friend.

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The novel also contains its own water fountain scene. While my tale from last month was humorous, Cassie’s story could have been tragic. She saw a water fountain in the courthouse, and she was thirsty. Only it was a WHITE water fountain. As she stepped up to it, her white friend yanked her backward and hauled her out of the courthouse before anyone saw she was in the hallway much less ready to drink from their fountain. He deposited Cassie with her older brother Stacey, who was furious. With her. When Stacey pointed out she could have been hanged for using that fountain and Jeremiah had saved her life, any hope she ever had of being considered equal with whites died on the courthouse lawn that day.

Let the Circle Be Unbroken continues the story of Cassie’s family. She’s eleven now, a little wiser, closer to womanhood. Stacey warns her she can’t be friends with Jeremiah, who is always nice to their family. The black man has learned by experience, that even if the white man seems friendly, you never know when he’ll buckle under the pressure of his own culture.

Against his parents’ wishes, Stacey leaves home determined to help the family earn money. His father knows a black boy on his own is easy prey for unscrupulous white bosses. He follows every lead to find Stacey and bring him home. While mother and father search, Cassie and her younger brothers learn several lessons about surviving in an unfriendly world.

Taylor has written other books about the Logan family over the course of twenty years. She gives us an eye-opening and heartwarming view into the heritage of African Americans. When she must describe a violent scene, her words pack an emotional punch instead of embellishing every bloody detail. Her message goes beyond the sting of racial conflicts and offers hope to humanity through the deep questions of right and wrong, good and evil, and the light of individuals who choose to do right.

The Colored Water Fountain: A Tale of Innocence

Vintage reads

 

For three months in 1961 while my father trained to fly the F-101 at Maxwell Air Force Base, I spent a portion of second grade in Montgomery, Alabama, a city that made international news with its race riots earlier in the year.

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Keep in mind I was a protected, naïve child of the North. I knew nothing of Martin Luther King, Jr., of civil rights marches, or even of any resentment that whites and blacks had for each other. Back then, the word, “African-American,” hadn’t yet been invented. Instead, the politically correct term in the northern states was “negro,” and the southern states held to the traditional “colored.”

Once Dad had finished his training and was assigned to a base in Niagara Falls, it was time to buy airline tickets to send us to our new destination. While waiting at the ticket counter—forever—in my seven-year-old mind, I spied two, side-by-side water fountains. Each sat under a label attached to the wall. WHITE and COLORED. Intriguing.

I approached them, not particularly thirsty. WHITE sounded boring. It must be regular water. They should’ve labeled it CLEAR. But COLORED. What would colored water look like? I skipped over to the colored fountain and turned the handle to find out.

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A shriek from the ticket counter pierced through the hubbub of the busy airport, stopping everyone in their tracks, including mine. “Little girl, little girl, get away from there!”

How many other little girls might be here? I hadn’t seen any.

Mom was at my side as I pivoted in search of her. “Linda. You can read. Why did you go to the colored fountain?”

Why was I in trouble? Why had a stranger screamed at me? My lip started to tremble. “I wanted to see the rainbow water.”

A negro lady close to me in the crowd that had gathered, smothered a giggle. Mom smiled. Taking my hand, she led me back to the counter. After explaining what had happened, my dad laughed out loud. The ticket lady didn’t think it was funny.

While Daddy finished the transaction, Mom gave me my first lesson in race relations as they existed in our country. “Linda, we’ve been in Alabama for a few months, now. Didn’t you notice the negroes are called ‘coloreds’ here?”

I shook my head. I had never paid attention to anything except my home and my classroom.

Mom sighed. “Down here everything is separate for negroes and whites. So we’re supposed to use the white water fountain, and they use the colored fountain.”

It didn’t make sense to me that people had to use different water fountains because their skin color was different, but I didn’t question it. Besides, I was more upset that the colored water didn’t look any different from the white water.

At seven, kids accept what is, even when they know it’s not fair. Give them another five years. They’ll either perpetuate the mores of their culture, or they’ll rebel and work to create something new.

You’re certainly welcome to comment on the personal story I’ve shared with you, but my purpose is to set you up for the next time I post. I want to share three books that portray the prejudice within our American heritage, then move on to the prejudice tearing apart our country today. How can we heal the rift?

rift

Dave Burnell, Creative Commons

Ghost Stories

Vintage reads

Everybody loves a well-told tale. Emphasis on well-told.

As we travel through the second half of October, and grotesque stories assail us on television, in theaters, and in bookstores, I will be the curmudgeon who says, “Most of what is thrown at us is garbage.” Hollywood goes for the gross-out and the gore, rarely setting up the audience for the whys and the hows of the horror to come. The best horror doesn’t need a drop of blood and leaves the listener pondering the mystery after the story has come to a close.

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Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one such story. Don’t you dare run out for the Disney video! If there’s a film that can a hold flickering candle to the literary triumph, I’m not aware of it. Irving, known as the Father of the American Short Story, wrote this ghostly tale early in his career and published it as part of an anthology entitled, The Sketch Book.

Imagine his audience. The story was made to be read aloud in front of the hearth. No televisions, radios, or video games provided entertainment. The family hungered for words as the reader spun a tale allowing them to sense every detail in their minds. They could hear the footstep that caused a dry leaf to crackle. They could smell ash from the campfire in the deep woods. They could see the rosy blush on the maiden’s cheek and taste a just-picked apple.

Our generation could learn from the folks of two hundred years ago. I invite you to read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on a family night—it might take three or four family nights—but there are great cliffhangers where you can stop each evening. Keep a dictionary handy. I have an extensive vocabulary, but the early nineteenth century Dutch farmers in the Hudson River Valley outclass me. And be prepared for discussions on race. Irving writes with a matter-of-fact view of the culture of his time. African Americans were slaves or servants, rarely landowners, and even in the northern states, anyone of color was not considered equal to the white man. Please don’t judge the writer for authentically reflecting the times he lived in.

Once I read the story out loud, how I wished I had grown up in a snug farm house with no electricity! Irving provides beautiful descriptions of that part of New York in autumn, and his ironic asides brought chuckles and some outright laughter.

credit to nomiz25.deviantart.com

credit to nomiz25.deviantart.com

Several pages prepare you for the action of the Headless Horseman: Ichabod Crane’s personality and eccentricities, his thoughts and habits, the setting of farms and forests, and the rural culture. The author hints at the macabre, the ghost stories that originated and grew from Sleepy Hollow. If you like to dwell on the subtleties of horror, Irving gets you good and scared about the possibilities. Then, he arrives at the crux of the story: a woman. One always needs conflict in a good plot, right? And even centuries ago, unrequited love was not a new literary device.

Irving’s ghost story ends in perfection. Who really was the headless horseman? Brom Bones? After all, he married the woman in question. Or did the specter really exist? Not even Ichabod Crane could be sure. Only the headless horseman himself knows the answer.

 

 

Incredible Journey

Vintage reads

Who remembers the movie, Homeward Bound, subtitled, The Incredible Journey? Yes, an entire auditorium of raised hands fills my vision.

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Now. Who remembers the book titled, The Incredible Journey? Hmmm. A few uplifted hands spike from the audience like corn volunteers in a soybean field. (Can you tell I live in the Midwest?)

Yes, boys and girls, The Incredible Journey was a book long before Sally Field and Michael J. Fox lent their voices to a foolish dog and a sassy cat. Don’t think I’m criticizing Homeward Bound. The producers and director made sure the heart of the story remained true to the book, and I love that movie. It’s one of the few I’m willing to watch again and again and again.

Sheila Burnford published The Incredible Journey, the novel, in 1960. Between the slightly foreign voice of a Canadian author and the acceptable writing style from over half a century ago, kids today will have a harder time appreciating the original story than they did back when I first read the book.

Wait a minute. I’m assuming you know the premise of the story. In case you don’t: because a family has a temporary living situation that doesn’t allow pets, two dogs and a cat have been boarded with a friend of theirs. Of course, the animals don’t know why they’ve been separated from their beloved owners, so they run away from the caregiver and head home.

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The book and both movies pull at the same heartstrings. Yes, both movies. Before Homeward Bound, there was another film, appropriately titled The Incredible Journey. It was completely faithful to events in the novel and narrated in much the same way as the omniscient narrator tells the story in the print version.

 

You would think children would not enjoy the older movie. It’s black and white, narrated, and has no animal voices provided, but my six-year-old granddaughter sat in front of the television, enthralled. Similar to the 1986 comedy-drama, The Adventures of Milo and Otis, children of today still get wrapped up in a story of real animals against the elements.

If you haven’t read The Incredible Journey, go for it. Insist your kids read it, or make it a family read-aloud. Like I mentioned in my September 10th post, make sure your children eat their literary vegetables.