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.

legend-of-sleepy-hollow

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.

 

 

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Dysfunctional Family Desired for Story Premise

Vintage reads

Remember those good old TV shows from the Fifties? Andy Griffith, Leave It to Beaver, The Lone Ranger, and a host of others. Today’s viewers say, “Boring. No conflict. Not enough action.”

 
Excuse me? While superheroes didn’t bounce out of the sky and smash a city to individual cinder blocks, the characters in those programs faced real problems and taught children how to solve them. In many family comedies, Dads led their wives and children through a jungle of moral decisions. The parents, as a team, guided their children toward wisdom, unlike many of the buffoons in today’s sitcoms.

 
Take Eddie Haskell, a problem that never stopped. Wally and the Beaver didn’t like him, but they treated him with grace. Their parents told them to, they obeyed, and further conflict was averted. At least, until Eddie tried something else, and the cycle repeated.

 
Or Opie Taylor, Andy Griffith’s son. I remember an episode where he had to choose: prepare to fight the bully for what was right or join the crowd to do wrong. Thanks to his father’s consistent example, Opie chose to stand for righteousness.

 

 

Dennis_the_Menace_North_Anderson_Henry_1959
Dennis the Menace entertained us with his inept efforts to be helpful, and his generous heart taught children like me to love our neighbors. His parents were often at a loss as to how to handle what Dennis might get into next, but they always explained to their son how he might have done things differently with less disastrous results.

 
Even westerns taught Judeo Christian morality. In The Rifleman, a father taught his son right and wrong and to use violence as a last resort to save other lives. The Lone Ranger never looked for credit for his good deeds. The rescued asked, “Who was that masked man?” as he rode into the sunset. Lessons in humility.

 
I want the same lessons of goodness in the books I read where characters solve problems in an honorable manner. It’s why I prefer the classics, books that contain intact families who love each other and face conflicts together. I get so tired of the dysfunctional families and missing parents in today’s literature. As an experiment, I went through the archives of The Scriblerians and checked the family situations in each of the books I’ve reviewed. I was dismayed by the results:

 
Dysfunctional Family/Missing Parent Intact, Loving Family
//// //// //// //// // //// //// /

 
Even if I discount the handful of books written past 1990, I found that authors use the lack of a good parent as an integral part of the conflict for the child protagonist. As much as I love each one of these stories, I’m saddened by that reality.

 

 

Sswans_s-1-
Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars is a case in point. Thirteen-year-old Sara lives with her snarky teenage sister, her little brother Charlie, and their aunt. Their mother died; their dad split. Charlie has unnamed developmental disabilities. Today we might say he’s on the autism spectrum. Sara loves Charlie; she hates his neediness. She hates herself as many young adolescents do. The novel is beautiful and character-driven with a flawed protagonist who finally realizes she loves her family as it is.

 
Most of the events in the plot could have been accomplished with a mom and dad still around. Two parents could have struggled together in dealing with Charlie’s eccentricities, and teens in their struggle for independence get in grand funks even when they grow up in wonderful, loving homes.

 
Strong families are not exempt from ongoing crises. I’m currently writing a fictionalized memoir covering the first five years of my little sister’s life. Our parents enjoyed a solid marriage, and they had to cope with the uncertainties of raising a profoundly deaf child. Heartbreaking events occurred, and comical episodes still made life fun. We were strong. We were together.

 
This is what I feel called to do in my writing, to glorify God with stories of family who strive together to overcome the obstacles in their path as they journey through life, pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land.

How Could I Have Forgotten the Forgotten Door?

Vintage reads

What if people were always kind, not selfish? What if they were generous, never greedy? What if animals could sense the goodness in those people? Having no fear, they would approach the humans and enjoy their company. Even better, what if the animals and the people could communicate by signaling and receiving each other’s thoughts? All these what-ifs are the basis of the children’s science fiction novel, The Forgotten Door.

Forgotten Door

Written by Alexander Key and published in 1965, the United States and the Soviet Union stood nose to nose in the Cold War while every other nation held its collective breath waiting to see if we teetered into a full-fledged World War III. Man’s inhumanity to man had become all too obvious after two global wars in less than thirty years. Key uses this as background undergirding the immediate setting.

The Forgotten Door. I remember the title. I’m sure I read it at a young age, so it must have been shortly after its debut. Pieces of memory flash excitement; this was a good book. And my only other association with the familiar title was a sense of wistfulness…if only…

So I reread all 140 pages of it last week. How could I have forgotten The Forgotten Door? A boy who is stargazing in his world takes a step back, falls through a hidden door long forgotten by his people, and lands in our world.

starry night-sky-1469156_640Suffering from bruises and a concussion, Jon finds himself on a mountainside on Earth. A doe and her fawn lead him to a nearby road. He doesn’t understand the ugly attitudes in most of the humans he meets. His intelligence is light years above ours. He hears people’s thoughts and can communicate with animals. With help from one kind family and a ferocious dog, he tries to figure out how to get home. Except, as events progress, the family will need his help in order to survive. The story is filled with what-ifs, conflicts, and a happy ending—everything any fiction reader would desire.

Perhaps best known for Escape to Witch Mountain, Alexander Key (1904-1979) touches the core of the human heart. Most of Key’s books follow a similar format: the world may be evil, but there are good people who will help those in need. The grandson of a Methodist minister, Alexander Key apparently did not have a Christian faith. Others who write about him believe he was part of the Freethinker movement, a philosophy based on human reason and kindness. Yet he hints at a world created by intelligent design.

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Since I’m a devout Christian, why would I recommend a book written by a freethinker? Because of Romans 1:20. All humans recognize good and evil. God put that knowledge in them whether they acknowledge Him or not. The Forgotten Door and Key’s other books show the triumph of good over evil, which is enough of a start for me to share an excellent story with my grandchildren.

Now, I’m on the hunt for the rest of Key’s children’s novels still in print. Are any one of them your favorites?

Vintage Reads: Summer Queens and Frontier Scenes

Vintage reads

If you’ve been a reader of our blog for long, you’ve probably noticed that each Scriblerian maintains his or her own personality, not only in how they write, but their choice of topic. Maybe you’ve wondered what the unifying factor is. What can you expect to find on this site? Our slogan off to the right says it all: “Writing for Non-Adults of All Ages.” We love YA and children’s literature. We love to write it, love to read it. We’re kids at heart, and we know there are plenty of readers out there who feel the same way.

You’ve heard from Gretchen who will cover healthy lifestyle in body, mind, and soul. If you’ve ever met her, she HAS to run off that energy! She can talk at warp speed and some days literally bounces with youthful enthusiasm.

I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest in this group. I don’t think any other Scriblerians have children closer to forty than thirty! My columns have always been written for the purpose of introducing a younger generation to the wonderful stories from yesteryear. Since any item that’s been around for more than two years is considered obsolete in our instantaneous society, I choose to share books from my childhood, from my sons’ childhoods, and the best of the best from the last ten years. Classic KidLit.

Here is my choice for today, a blessing of our American Heritage.

Alfred Jacob Miller - Fort Laramie - Walters 37194049.jpg

Alfred Jacob Miller – Fort Laramie – Walters 37194049.jpg

As a child, I could read anywhere any time. As an adult too, come to think of it. During the school year, I had to take time out for school and homework, piano and dance lessons, but when summer arrived… FREEDOM!!

Now, most kids celebrated summer with the daily kickball/baseball game or hikes in the woods or a run to the ice cream shop. I dedicated my mornings to reading in bed, reading at the breakfast table, reading on the porch, and in the afternoons, reading at the pool, reading in the shade, read… you get the idea.

I had a health-conscious mom, though. She forced me outside for exercise and vitamin D, so I got my fair share of sports, nature, and ice cream. As the oldest members of our neighborhood crowd, my best friend and I ruled as queens of the pack. We were gracious, beneficent rulers (yes, you may roll your eyes) and allowed input from our subjects as to what games would be played each day.Thanks to all my reading, the neighborhood kids enjoyed some unusual imaginary games, all based on plots from my favorite books. When we played Cowboys and Indians, according to majority rule, the cowboys were always supposed to defeat the evil savages. (Keep in mind this was the early 1960’s).

sillyeaglebooks.com

sillyeaglebooks.com

I thought the status quo was unfair, but I held off from wielding my scepter like a club. Instead, I tried to persuade with logic. The Indians were on American land first. Shouldn’t the colonists have shared the land with them? If somebody took away my home, I would fight, too! The boys were not convinced.

Thus began my burgeoning interest in American history. I discovered the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I must have scampered through each volume two or three times. And THEN I read Caddie Woodlawn.

Both authors had been published in the same era, 1935 for Caddie Woodlawn, and 1932-43 for the Little House books. Both stories were based on real people. Carol Ryrie Brink faithfully wrote down the tales of her grandmother, Caddie Woodlawn. Laura Ingalls shared her own story. While several volumes of the Little House series earned the “Honor” status of the Newbery Medal, it was Caddie Woodlawn that won the award in 1936. I think I understand why, now that I’ve reread the books as an adult.

Caddie Woodlawn

Don’t get me wrong. Children will love to read the Little House books for years to come as Laura tells the story of her childhood, painting vivid pictures of family life on the frontier. Caddie Woodlawn goes beyond family and into the contentious issues of the day from a child’s perspective, namely: how do you deal with irresponsible people, and how should pioneers treat the Indians who still roam portions of the land settled by the white man.

Notice, I use the term “Indian.”  “Native American” was a re-label once it became politically incorrect to call the indigent natives a name that made it seem like they were from India. In 1935, the common term was “Indians,” and it wasn’t derogatory in nature. Unless a person’s tone of voice made it so. In Caddie’s case, friendship and peace won the day. Her interactions with Indian John inspired nine-year-old Linda. This was a girl after my own heart!

Her story put history on my side.  The queens of Castle Road decreed there would be no massacres of Indians when we played make-believe. If our brothers insisted on going to war, they could fight the Nazis.

Was there ever a time you used stories from your reading experience to act out or use in a game? It would be fun to learn what you were like as a kid.

 

 

Madeline: A Wholesome Choice in a Kid Lit Diet

 

 

Madeline

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”

So begins the story of Madeline, and so begins every book in the series.

Madeline lives in a convent most likely in the 1930’s. Her teacher and governess is a nun, Miss Clavel. When I was a child, I thought it was terrible that little girls had to live away from their parents. I assumed Miss Clavel was mean like Snow White’s stepmother. After all, the girls were forced to walk in two straight lines. Because Madeline was the smallest girl, I expected the others to bully her like Cinderella’s stepsisters. Obviously, I’d been reading too many fairytales! Imagine my surprise when I found out that Miss Clavel cried when Madeline had to have an emergency appendectomy, and the other eleven girls begged to visit her in the hospital!

My favorite of the six original books is Madeline and the Bad Hat. Not only is Madeline her spunky, red-headed self, she shows tremendous wisdom in differentiating right and wrong behavior. She will have nothing to do with the boy who is mean. However, once he shows he has changed his ways, she is quick to forgive and happy to be his friend. What a great choice to read aloud over and over again so kindness sinks into our children’s hearts.

Madeline’s creator, Ludwig Bemelmans (1896-1963), emigrated to the United States from Austria in 1914. My Austrian grandfather, only two years older than Bemelmans, also arrived in this country shortly before World War I began. Perhaps, that is one more reason I have an affinity for the author. Both men lived in Brooklyn; both traveled internationally. I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew each other! Unfortunately, I can’t ask them. My grandfather died in 1963 as well.

Madeline and the Cats of Rome

After Bemelmans’ death, one would assume the Madeline books were done. Enter John Bemelmans Marciano, the author’s grandson. Marciano is an artist and author in his own right. By studying his grandfather’s notes, John wrote five more Madeline tales, eventually adding his own personality to the later books, but Madeline remains the same feisty, mischievous but good child she always was.

In 2014, Marciano put down his pen and declared there would be no further Madeline stories in the foreseeable future. In the same year, he collaborated with the New York Historical Society in preparing an exhibition for the 75th anniversary of the first Madeline book. The curator of the Society, Jane Curley, stated, “We live in a throwaway society, but Madeline endures.”

I agree. Like an overabundant buffet table, our literary world is filled with addictive stories that lure us into the ultra-rich desserts of exotic fantasy worlds (and I love rich desserts!).  Readers toss away perfectly ripe apples of the last century’s bestsellers. We still need the healthy meat and potato meals of solid, simple fiction. What other healthy staples in established literature would you recommend?

meat and potatoes

 

 

 

WONDER — The Spark of Truth

I’ve been working on a memoir of my sister and me covering the first five years of her life. Struggling with author voice and the art of stringing events together in a cohesive fashion, fellow Scriblerian TJ Akers suggested I read Wonder.

Wonder-by-RJ-Palacio-e1387718254694
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, is a novel, but it reads like a memoir. In both my story and Palacio’s, the subject matter focuses on growing up in a family where one of the siblings has special needs. My sister overcame several physical handicaps. In Wonder, Auggie must tolerate people’s reactions to his facial disfigurements, and he must have the fortitude to become vulnerable to others if they are to ever know the soul behind the face.

 

 
Published in 2012, Wonder has already been noted as a modern classic, and I can see why. Classic literature takes readers beyond a good story, rich in emotion. It takes us deeper into the meaning of life. Secular or Christian, it doesn’t matter. Humans are made in God’s image, and all of us have been created with kindling in our hearts that bursts into flame at a touch from the spark of truth.

spark to kindling
Palacio’s writing style in displaying Auggie’s courage and honesty is such a spark. She has accomplished what I’m aiming for. I want my sister’s perseverance and spritely spirit to set hearts on fire.

 

 
Many of the books I review here at The Scriblerians fall into the “classics” category. Which children’s books have you read that sparked fire in your heart?

Reading for Inspiration

 

rays from heaven

As a senior in high school, I took an English elective titled “Reading for Pleasure.” Every day in class, I was required to spend forty-five minutes reading fiction. This would be my favorite class of all time!
The catch? Over a ten-week period, I had to read thirty-six books from a general reading list or fifteen books from the classical literature list to get an A. Eager and ambitious, I signed up for the classics. How hard could it be? Less than two books per week, and I could just keep reading at night for homework. Oh, and I had to take a test over each book. Piece of cake.

Success in College

from the book, Success in College

I read the books – Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, The Count of Monte Cristo, Madame Bovary, Animal Farm, to name a few. I got my A.

I was so depressed.
Didn’t these writers believe in happy endings?? I’ll give Dickens a little credit. At least Oliver Twist got a new and better family after he’d been abused for the entire novel. And Louisa May Alcott proved an exception to all the gloom.
For the second ten weeks, I contracted for the thirty-six general books. My teacher was not pleased.

credit to rallythereaders.com

credit to rallythereaders.com

Yet, even after that intense semester, I love literary fiction. While I often read cozy mysteries, fun chicklit, and some spec fiction, I prefer highly complex stories of mainstream literary fiction. Someday, I hope to write complicated stories of my own. Only I want Jesus as the central theme when generations of my characters weave a tapestry of tragedies, adventures, and daily living.
I’ve provided a list below of Christian authors who create wonderful, many-layered novels. While no one pens a story as heavy as Tolstoy, these authors write in a literary style filled with hope in the midst of their characters’ trials, and they bring the reader, and their protagonists, safely ashore by Finis. They don’t sugarcoat the reader’s world, but they offer far more hope and joy than the most lighthearted works of Jane Austen.

Pinterest.com

Pinterest.com

Wouldn’t it be great if high schools had required reading lists with these authors?

Ann Tatlock

Gene Stratton Porter

Elizabeth Musser

Madeleine Engle

Lisa Wingate

J.R.R. Tolkien

C.S. Lewis

John Bunyan

Francine Rivers

 

Who would you add for Christian literary fiction?