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Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Lifeby Anita Silvey
Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book
Today the challenge of political courage looms larger than ever before. For our everyday life is becoming so saturated with the tremendous power of mass communications that any unpopular or unorthodox course arouses a storm of protests such as John Quincy Adams--under attack in 1807--could never have envisioned. Our political life is becoming so expensive, so mechanized and so dominated by professional politicians and public relations men that the idealist who dreams of independent statesmanship is rudely awakened by the necessities of election and accomplishment.
And thus, in the days ahead, only the very courageous will be able to take the hard and unpopular decisions necessary for our survival in the struggle with a powerful enemy--an enemy with leaders who need give little thought to the popularity of their course, who need pay little tribute to the public opinion they themselves manipulate, and who may force, without fear of retaliation at the polls, their citizens to sacrifice present laughter for future glory. And only the very courageous will be able to keep alive the spirit of individualism and dissent which gave birth to this nation, nourished it as an infant and carried it through its severest tests upon the attainment of its maturity.
We shall need compromises in the days ahead, to be sure. But these will be, or should be, compromises of issues, not of principles. Compromises need not mean cowardice. Indeed it is frequently the compromisers and conciliators who are faced with the severest tests of political courage as they oppose the extremist views of their constituents. It was because Daniel Webster conscientiously favored compromise in 1850 that he earned a condemnation unsurpassed in the annals of political history.
His is a story worth remembering today. So, I believe, are the stories of the other Senators of courage--men whose abiding loyalty to their nations triumphed over all personal and political considerations, men who showed the real meaning of courage and a real faith in democracy, men who made the Senate of the United States something more than a mere collection of robots dutifully recording the views of their constituents, or a gathering of time-servers skilled only in predicting and following the tides of public sentiment. Whatever their differences, the American politicians whose stories are here retold shared that one heroic quality--courage. In the pages that follow, I have attempted to set forth their lives--the ideals they lived for and the principles they fought for, their virtues and their sins, their dreams and their disillusionments, the praise they earned and the abuse they endured. All this may be set down on the printed page. It is ours to write about, it is ours to read about. But there was in the lives of each of these men something that it is difficult for the printed page to capture--and yet something that has reached the homes and enriched the heritage of every citizen in every part of the land.
The courage to stand up for my beliefs and the courage to write
by John F. Kennedy
Over the years many popular works of adult nonfiction have been successfully adapted for a younger readership and issued in a young people's version. Recently both James Bradley's Flags of Our Fathers and Nathaniel Philbrick's in the Heart of the Sea (called Revenge of the Whale) were streamlined to create compelling narratives for a younger audience. John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage was released in a Young Readers Edition, which contained illustrations by Emil Weiss. Kennedy himself wrote an introduction to the volume, describing his book as one "about politicians who were failures." But, of course, the book also shows the principles and ideals of the historical figures Kennedy brings so vividly to life--John Quincy Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, Daniel Webster, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, George Norris, and Robert A. Taft.
Profiles in Courage, either in the original or the Young Readers Edition, shaped a generation in the 1960s who were becoming adults. Just as Kennedy attracted young voters to his side in his race for the presidency, he delivered a message in this book that fit into the moral vision and idealism of teenagers. Critic and children's book historian Leonard S. Marcus found this book in 1961 .
The first book I recall asking my parents for was the Young Readers Edition of John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage. Harper & Brothers released the illustrated, abridged edition of the Pulitzer Prize winner in January of 1961, in time for the presidential inauguration, and I wanted a copy as soon as I heard about it. I was ten, and a history buff, and I had campaigned for Kennedy by distributing leaflets in my neighborhood. I had done so not at my parents' urging but because after studying the saucy caricatures of all the candidates on the cover of Mad, I had simply decided--as though it were the most obvious thing in the world to do--to get involved in the election and to throw my support behind JFK.
Profiles in Courage's idealistic message of sticking to principle regardless of the consequences appealed greatly to my ten-year-old sense of idealism and high purpose. Even more powerful for me than the theme of Kennedy's book, however, was the mere fact that the president of the United States had written it. The only other president I knew anything about from firsthand observation, Dwight Eisenhower, had been little more to me than a kindly, balding television grandfather figure. I now saw that a president could also be a vibrant young man, and (even better) that he could be a writer, too--just as I dreamed of being one day. When in his inaugural address President Kennedy declared that the "torch" had been "passed to a new generation," I was sure that he was talking about my generation as well as his own. As I grew older, the courage I continued to draw from his treasured book was equally the courage to stand up for my beliefs and the courage to write.
"The greater part of these dishes are unknown to you," he said to me. "However, you may partake of them without fear. They are wholesome and nourishing. For a long time I have renounced the food of the earth, and I am never ill now. My crew, who are healthy, are fed on the same food."
"So," said I, "all these eatables are the produce of the sea?"
"Yes, Professor, the sea supplies all my wants. Sometimes I cast my nets in tow, and I draw them in ready to break. Sometimes I hunt in the midst of this element, which appears to be inaccessible to man, and quarry the game which dwells in my submarine forests. My flocks, like those of Neptune's old shepherds, graze fearlessly in the immense prairies of the ocean. I have a vast property there, which I cultivate myself, and which is always sown by the hand of the Creator of all things."
"I can understand perfectly, sir, that your nets furnish excellent fish for your table; I can understand also that you hunt aquatic game in your submarine forests; but I cannot understand at all how a particle of meat, no matter how small, can figure in your bill of fare."
"This, which you believe to be meat, Professor, is nothing else than fillet of turtle. Here are also some dolphins' livers, which you take to be ragout of pork. My cook is a clever fellow, who excels in dressing these various products of the ocean. Taste all these dishes. Here is a preserve of sea-cucumber, which a Malay would declare to be unrivalled in the world; here is a cream, of which the milk has been furnished by the cetacea, and the sugar by the great fucus of the North Sea; and, lastly, permit me to offer you some preserve of anemones, which is equal to that of the most delicious fruits."
I tasted, more from curiosity than as a connoisseur, whilst Captain Nemo enchanted me with his extraordinary stories.
"You like the sea, Captain?"
"Yes; I love it! The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides. The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence. It is nothing but love and emotion; it is the Living Infinite,' as one of your poets has said. In fact, Professor, Nature manifests herself in it by her three kingdoms--mineral, vegetable, and animal. The sea is the vast reservoir of Nature. The globe began with sea, so to speak; and who knows if it will not end with it? In it is supreme tranquillity. The sea does not belong to despots. Upon its surface men can still exercise unjust laws, fight, tear one another to pieces, and be carried away with terrestrial horrors. But at thirty feet below its level, their reign ceases, their influence is quenched, and their power disappears. Ah! sir, live--live in the bosom of the waters! There only is independence! There I recognize no masters! There I am free!"
Captain Nemo suddenly became silent in the midst of this enthusiasm, by which he was quite carried away. For a few moments he paced up and down, much agitated. Then he became more calm, regained his accustomed coldness of expression, and turning towards me: "Now, Professor," said he, "if you wish to go over the Nautilus, I am at your service."
All of us have dreams; all of us should try to live those dreams.
by Jules Verne
Published in 1870, Jules Verne's science-fiction masterpiece Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea reads like one of the page-turning, plot-driven novels for children of the twenty-first century. If living, Verne might compare writing notes with J. K. Rowling.
Professor Aronnax of the Paris Museum of Natural History presents a first-person narrative of an amazing ten-month period in which he traveled twenty thousand leagues in the oceans of Earth. Setting out with an American crew to find a mythical narwhal that has been damaging ships, the professor discovers an entirely different universe. The monster is the Nautilus, the submarine of the enigmatic Captain Nemo. Taken on board with two other prisoners, the professor delights in living on this completely self-sustaining vessel. They observe sunken ships, retrieve treasures from the sea floor, walk on the bottom of the sea, battle giant squids, and even examine the lost continent of Atlantis. Part science, part thriller, the story revolves around the mounting tension as the prisoners seek to escape their captor.
Dr. Robert Ballard, who located the wreck of the Titanic, discovered Jules Verne, Captain Nemo, and his own obsession at the age of ten.
When I was about ten years old, my favorite book was Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. My hero was Captain Nemo. I wanted to be inside his ship, the Nautilus. He built his own submarine, using advanced technology. He was a technologist but also an adventurer. Through a giant window, he examined the sea.
I wanted to be an undersea explorer. Fortunately, when I told my parents, they didn't laugh at me. They actually encouraged me. They said, "Maybe you need to become an oceanographer, if you want to become a Captain Nemo." So I became an oceanographer. Then my parents said, "Maybe you need to become a naval officer," and I did.
What am I today? A high-tech, modern-day Captain Nemo. Absolutely no doubt about it. I'm doing now exactly what he was doing, what I wanted to do, after I read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. All kids have marvelous images of what they want to do. But then society often tells them they can't do it. I believe all of us have dreams; all of us should try to live those dreams.
The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us. His grey eyes shone and twinkled, and his unusually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burned brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses. Our chairs, being his patents, embraced and caressed us rather than submitted to be sat upon, and there was that luxurious after-dinner atmosphere when thought runs gracefully free of the trammels of precision. And he put it to us in this way--marking the points with a lean forefinger--as we sat and lazily admired his earnestness over this new paradox (as we thought it:) and his fecundity.
"You must follow me carefully. I shall have to controvert one or two ideas that are almost universally accepted. The geometry, for instance, they taught you at school is founded on a misconception."
"Is not that rather a large thing to expect us to begin upon?" said Filby, an argumentative person with red hair.
"I do not mean to ask you to accept anything without reasonable ground for it. You will soon admit as much as I need from you. You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence. They taught you that? Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions."
"That is all right," said the Psychologist.
"Nor, having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence."
"There I object," said Filby. "Of course a solid body may exist. All real things--"
"So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an instantaneous cube exist?"
"Don't follow you," said Filby.
"Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?"
Filby became pensive. "Clearly," the Time Traveller proceeded, "any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and--Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, we incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives."
Inspiration that shaped my life
by H. G. Wells
In 1895, with the publication of The Time Machine, a heretofore unknown journalist, Herbert George Wells, leapt into fame and fortune. After seven years of writing, he produced a short, novella-length manuscript, initially serialized in The New Review. For a public fascinated with the possibilities of science and mathematics, Wells's view of the future shocked their sensibilities. influenced by Darwin, Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and contemporary scientific inquiry, Wells crafted a story that initially makes the reader believe they are witnessing a utopian society--only to discover that it is actually a dystopian world.
In The Time Machine an unnamed scientist invents the means to travel in time. At the beginning, he alerts a group of gentlemen about his experiments; then placing himself in his time machine, he travels to the year 802,701. Here he finds a peaceful, pastoral community of the Eloi--lovely, childlike, and without aggression. But eventually, to his horror, he realizes they can live without working because toiling underground are the cannibal Morlocks that control the planet. Barely escaping the Morlocks, the time traveler catapults himself thirty million years into the future, only to witness the end of the Earth.
Adapted for movies, documentaries, even classic comics, The Time Machine, not intentionally written for children, has continued to intrigue adults and children alike. Currently several theoretical physicists believe time travel to be possible. The journey of one of these scientists, Dr. Ronald L. Mallett, Professor at the University of Connecticut, began when he read The Time Machine as a child.
When I was ten years old, my father died of a heart attack at the age of thirty-three. Mourning the loss of him, I became increasingly isolated. Not interested in games, sports, or socializing, I escaped into magazines, books, and movies, many of them fantasy and science fiction.
Just about a year after my father died, I came across The Time Machine, first as Illustrated Comics Edition #133. Since I wanted to read more about the time traveler, I went to the public library and took out Wells's original book. I needed a dictionary for even the first sentence: "The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us." But I was mesmerized by Wells's vision of time: "If Time is really only a fourth dimension of Space, why is it, and why has it always been, regarded as something different? And why cannot we move in Time as we move about in the other dimensions of Space?"
I decided that if I could build a time machine, I could go back and see my father and warn him about the dangers to his health. So building a time machine became an obsession for me, and I read that book again and again to get clues about how to do this. That obsession kept me from going into a total depression--because I had an inspiration.
My life then became shaped by books, one after another. Today as someone in physics, I am working on the possibilities of time travel. I now know that the right book at the right time saved me--and it gave me direction for the rest of my life.
One of the nice little gusts of wind rushed down the walk, and it was a stronger one than the rest. It was strong enough to wave the branches of the trees, and it was more than strong enough to sway the trailing sprays of untrimmed ivy hanging from the wall. Mary had stepped close to the robin, and suddenly the gust of wind swung aside some loose ivy trails, and more suddenly still she jumped toward it and caught it in her hand. This she did because she had seen something under it--a round knob which had been covered by the leaves hanging over it. It was the knob of a door.
She put her hands under the leaves and began to pull and push them aside. Thick as the ivy hung, it nearly all was a loose and swinging curtain, though some had crept over wood and iron. Mary's heart began to thump and her hands to shake a little in her delight and excitement. The robin kept singing and twittering away and tilting his head on one side, as if he were as excited as she was. What was this under her hands which was square and made of iron and which her fingers found a hole in?
It was the lock of the door which had been closed ten years and she put her hand in her pocket, drew out the key and found it fitted the keyhole. She put the key in and turned it. It took two hands to do it, but it did turn.
And then she took a long breath and looked behind her up the long walk to see if any one was coming. No one was coming. No one ever did come, it seemed, and she took another long breath, because she could not help it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door which opened, slowly--slowly.
Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight.
She was standing inside the secret garden.
A sense of wonder
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Frances Hodgson Burnett, the J. K. Rowling of her day, enjoyed on audience of both adults and children for all of her best-selling books. In her lifetime everyone believed she had written a masterpiece in Little Lord Fauntleroy, a book that caused a fashion craze--young boys wearing suits patterned after the Little Lord. But The Secret Garden, a quieter book of Burnett's, unmentioned in her New York Times obituary, grew in importance after she died and has become her contemporary legacy.
When Mary Lennox becomes an orphan because of a cholera epidemic, she is sent to Misselthwaite Manor, an isolated country estate in Yorkshire, England. Left mostly alone, she explores her environment and becomes curious about a walled garden, now locked away. Eventually, Mary finds the key, opens the garden, and brings Dickon, a servant's brother, and Colin, her uncle's sickly child, into the mysterious place. Published in 1911 and considered the first modern children's novel, the book features two initially unattractive protagonists, Colin and Mary, who become better human beings as they transform the garden into a beautiful place. Mary's cry in this book, "Might I have a bit of earth?" continues to speak to anyone who wants to dig in the ground and bring forth life.
Newbery Award winner Katherine Paterson found The Secret Garden as a child and continues to reinterpret its meaning as she moves through the stages of her life. Librarian Pat Scales discovered a reason to read when she picked up the book at age eight.
In trying to say what reading The Secret Garden meant to me as a child, I find myself awash in feelings that do not easily translate into words. What was the gift of this magical book? I ask myself. Then I realize that it was wonder--not the kind of wonder that fantasy evokes, but the wonder of the natural world when I take the time to look. Frances Hodgson Burnett taught me to marvel that a shriveled brown bulb can produce a tulip, that dead sticks can give birth to roses, and that even people, shriveled by illness and deadened by grief, can still blossom. Her book helped me to see the miracle of new life bursting forth from apparent death.
In The Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson says: "If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength." This was surely the gift The Secret Garden gave to me as a child, and although I'm no good fairy, it is a gift I seek to share.
A sense of courage
When I was six years old and in first grade, my parents promised me a bicycle if I would learn to read. I don't know if I was rebelling against Dick, Jane, and Sally, or why my parents thought that I needed to be bribed to read. I got the bicycle, and by the end of my first-grade year nothing could stop me from reading. There was no bookstore in my small Alabama town, and the library had a limited collection of books for children--the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Childhood of Famous Americans series. But the book that had the greatest impact on me was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved the idea of Mary Lennox being a stranger in a rambling estate like Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, England. I even thought that it would be exciting to be an orphan like her, a lonely child who was an outsider in a bizarre and mysterious household. I pretended that the hedge in my backyard was the entrance to an overgrown garden that had possibilities of becoming something beautiful.
There was no Colin in my life. But there was a girl in my class who had polio. She was the only handicapped person in my school, and we were fascinated with her circumstances. For a while, everyone wanted a turn at pushing her wheelchair or carrying her books. But she was a bit sour and disagreeable like Colin, and she learned at a very young age to use her handicap to get sympathy. As we grew older, no one in my class wanted to deal with her anymore. She was simply too demanding. I remember thinking that she needed someone like Mary to give her something beautiful. She needed a garden filled with sweet-smelling roses and a variety of fragrant flowers. She needed a Mary to show her courage.
I have committed to memory every scene in The Secret Garden. I know exactly where I was when I read that book. I remember not wanting anyone to interrupt me while I was reading, and I remember hoping that the book would never end. And, to this day, when I come upon a rusted garden gate, I believe that Mary, Dickon, and Colin are on the other side of that gate--secretly turning the garden into something beautiful.
William C. DeVries
"For my part, I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart."
by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by W. W. Denslow
In many cases, people who read a book and then see a movie always say, "The film wasn't as good as the book." But in some cases, such as The Wizard of Oz, people often love the movie as much as the book. Not only was the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland a critical and commercial success, it took the best qualities of the book and brought them to life. In the case of Baum's 1900 title, the author greatest strengths lay in the plot and the imaginative world of Oz that he envisioned.
A tornado on the Kansas plains lifts Dorothy with her dog, Toto, and part of their house to the Land of Oz, where everything is lush and green. When the house lands, it kills the Wicked Witch of the East, and Dorothy takes the witch's silver slippers as her own. Then, with Toto, she sets off on the yellow brick road to see the wonderful Wizard, who may be able to get her back to Kansas. Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow who needs a brain, the Tin Man who desires a heart, and the Cowardly Lion who longs for courage. Before the Wizard grants their wishes, he sends them to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Even before they accomplish this task, these characters exhibit brains, heart, and courage as they go along. Although a humbug, the Wizard actually provides the answers needed by everyone. In The Wizard of Oz, Baum wanted to create a modern American fairy tale. He succeeded brilliantly, and the book and its characters have entered into American culture and become part of our literary landscape. Wicked, Gregory Maguire's clever adaptation of the story, remains a long-running Broadway hit--and the movie a cherished film icon. But for Dr. William C. DeVries, the cardiothoracic surgeon who performed the first successful permanent artificial heart implantation, the book provided another kind of inspiration. Scholar Michael Patrick Hearn, author of The Annotated Wizard of Oz, has devoted a lifetime of study to Oz.
One of the first books my mother introduced me to was The Wizard of Oz. I read all of the books in the series and was very impressed by them. I particularly liked the Tin Woodman. In the book, the Wizard of Oz talks to the Tin Woodman about whether or not he really wants a heart. The Wizard believes that having a heart is not such a good thing: "It makes most people unhappy." But the Tin Woodman says, "For my part, I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart." In my work, I have thought about those lines many, many times.
"How about my heart?" asked the Tin Woodman.
"Why, as for that," answered Oz, "I think you are wrong to want a heart. It makes most people unhappy. If you only knew it, you are in luck not to have a heart."
"That must be a matter of opinion," said the Tin Woodman. "For my part, I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart."
"Very well," answered Oz meekly. "Come to me tomorrow and you shall have a heart. I have played Wizard for so many years that I may as well continue a little longer."
"And now," said Dorothy, "how am I to get back to Kansas?"
"We shall have to think about that," replied the little man. "Give me two or three days to consider the matter and I'll try to find a way to carry you over the desert. In the meantime you shall all be treated as my guests, and while you live in the Palace my people will wait upon you and obey your slightest wish. There is only one thing I ask in return for my help--such as it is. You must keep my secret and tell no one I am a humbug."
They agreed to say nothing of what they had learned, and went back to their rooms in high spirits. Even Dorothy had hope that "The Great and Terrible Humbug," as she called him, would find a way to send her back to Kansas, and if he did she was willing to forgive him everything.
Michael Patrick Hearn
Brains, heart, and courage--the brains, heart, and courage within me
It was my sister's fault. She brought the Oz books home before I was old enough to check them out of the library myself. I was hooked from the start.
The Wizard of Oz was not the first or the last of the Oz books I read. But it was the best. The opening paragraphs about Dorothy's dull, gray life on the great, gray prairie did not prepare me for what immediately lay ahead. The violent upheaval of the Kansas cyclone introduced me to the unforgettable power of literature. The vivid image of Dorothy in danger at the very center of this natural disaster still haunts me. Then there was the welcome quiet after the storm when the cyclone landed her house very gently--for a cyclone--in that extraordinary land somewhere over the rainbow.
The writing of The Wizard of Oz was as clear-eyed and focused as the little heroine herself. Baum's quiet, reassuring voice was never intrusive. Like all masters of English prose, he knew exactly what to say. Baum was so convincing to me that he was not telling a story. He was relating history. He never distracted me with stylistic tricks or gratuitous commentary. He possessed a gift for providing the telling detail that brought a character, place, or incident vividly to life. He was sure to explain step by step exactly how Dorothy and her companions overcame one hardship after another. There was always something marvelous and unexpected around every curve of the yellow brick road. Something that seemed insignificant earlier in the story often turned up later to be of the utmost importance. Just as it appeared that Dorothy's journey might be winding down, Baum threw in some new twist in the plot that kept it moving swiftly along. I could not stop reading.
I never felt I was Dorothy, but I saw the new world of Oz through her bright, innocent eyes just as she was discovering it. I identified with the Scarecrow who thought he was stupid but was really quite smart. He turned out to be "the wisest man in all the Land of Oz." Whenever someone called me "stupid," I always reminded myself of the Scarecrow. I knew the truth about him and about myself. I longed for friends like the tenderhearted Tin Woodman and the not so Cowardly Lion. I knew we, too, could conquer all wicked witches and unmask the humbug wizards of the world.
Oz was not the real world, but it prepared me for the disasters and disappointments that lay ahead. I have always allowed myself to be guided by brains, heart, and courage--the brains, heart, and courage within me--just as the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion did. And I continue to battle the wicked witches and unmask the humbug wizards of this world.
The wind, with a wild cry, slipped under the umbrella, pressing it upwards as though trying to force it out of Mary Poppins's hand. But she held on tightly, and that, apparently, was what the wind wanted her to do, for presently it lifted the umbrella higher into the air and Mary Poppins from the ground. It carried her lightly so that her toes just grazed along the garden path. Then it lifted her over the front gate and swept her upwards towards the branches of the cherry-trees in the Lane.
"She's going, Jane, she's going!" cried Michael, weeping.
"Quick!" cried Jane. "Let us get the Twins. They must see the last of her." She had no doubt now, nor had Michael, that Mary Poppins had gone for good because the wind had changed.
They each seized a Twin and rushed back to the window.
Mary Poppins was in the upper air now, floating away over the cherry-trees and the roofs of the houses, holding tightly to the umbrella with one hand and to the carpet bag with the other.
The Twins began to cry quietly.
With their free hands Jane and Michael opened the window and made one last effort to stay Mary Poppins's flight.
"Mary Poppins!" They cried. "Mary Poppins, come back!"
But she either did not hear or deliberately took no notice. For she went sailing on and on, up into the cloudy, whistling air, till at last she was wafted away over the hill and the children could see nothing but the trees bending and moaning under the wild west wind ... .
Being a free spirit--the best magic of all
by P. L. Travers, illustrated by Mary Shepard
A serious journalist and writer, P. L. Travers grew up in Australia, came under the spell of George Russell (who wrote under the pen name Æ) in Ireland, traveled in the early 1930s to the Soviet Union, and spent her adult life in London. Along with the effects of this travel on her writing, the spiritual influences of the East also informed her most famous books, the series about the nanny Mary Poppins, because Travers became a follower of the mystic Gurdjieff.
In Mary Poppins, the nanny Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, blown in by a strong east wind, carrying a carpetbag. She takes charge of the four Banks children and creates a series of incredible outings. She levitates everyone so that they can have a tea party on the ceiling, glues stars to the sky, and dances under the full moon at the zoo. Like Dr. Doolittle, she can even talk to the animals. Mysterious, vain, salty, unsentimental, and acerbic, this nanny never admits to the children that anything unusual might have happened.
In fact, Mary Poppins in the book bears no resemblance to the same character created in the Hollywood movie, starring Dick van Dyke and Julie Andrews. Fortunately New York Times best-selling novelist Anita Diamant discovered the real Mary Poppins as a child.
When I was a child, one of my favorite books was Mary Poppins. Hollywood turned her into a cream puff in the movie, and her name now conjures up the image of a perfect nanny--a woman who sweetly charms and pacifies her charges. But children who read the Pamela Travers series know that Mary Poppins is, in fact, opinionated, sharp of tongue, and not always nice. However, she is a good egg and, much more important, a witch with a magic satchel and knowledge of secret doorways into the many enchanted places hidden in plain sight throughout London.
Travers had a light touch for the supernatural: newborn babies who could converse with the wind, sunbeams, and birds; an ancient candy-store owner whose self-regenerating fingers are made of barley sugar. But Mary Poppins herself was the best magic of all: a free spirit who comes and goes as she sees fit; a well-traveled person with a fabulous past; an ordinary-looking woman who adores her own appearance and whose self-regard is as unassailable as the Himalayas. She was all that and more. I never wanted Mary Poppins to be my nanny. I wanted to be Mary Poppins when I grew up.
There stood an enormous bird. David had been to the zoo, and at home he had a book of birds with colored pictures. He knew the more common large birds of the world: the ostrich, the condor, the albatross, eagles, cranes, storks. But this bird--! Its shape was like that of an eagle, but stouter. Its neck had the length and elegant curve of a swan's neck. Its head was again like an eagle's, with a hooked bird-of-prey beak, but the expression in its brown eyes was mild. The long wings were blunt at the tips, the tail was short and broad. The legs, feathered halfway down, ended in taloned feet. An iridescent sheen sparkled on its plumage, reflecting sunlight from the scarlet crest, the golden neck and back, the breast of silver, the sapphire wings and tail. Its size alone would have been enough to take David's breath away. He could have stood beneath the arch of that neck with room to spare.
But the most astonishing thing was that the bird had an open book on the ground and was apparently trying to learn part of it by heart.
"Vivo, vives, vive," the bird read, very slowly and distinctly, staring hard at the book. "Vivimos, vivis, viven. That is simple enough, you blockhead! Now, then, without looking." It cleared its throat, looked away from the book, and repeated in a rapid mutter: "Vivo vives vi--ah--vivi--oh, dear, what is the matter with me?" Here the temptation to peek overcame it for an instant, and its head wavered. But it said, "No, no!" in a firm tone, looked carefully the other way, and began once more.
"Vivo, vives, vive--quite correct so far. Ah--vi--ah--Oh, dear, these verbs! Where was I? Oh, yes. Vivo--"
David's head reeled as he watched this amazing performance. There was no need to pinch himself to see if he were dreaming: he was perfectly wide awake. Everything else around him was behaving in a normal way. The mountain was solid beneath him, the sunlight streamed down as before. Yet there was the bird, unmistakably before him, undeniably studying its book and speaking to itself. David's mind caught hold of a phrase and repeated it over and over again: "What on earth? What on earth?"
An understanding of the Christian story
by Edward Ormondroyd, illustrated by Joan Raysor
Published in 1957, David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd presents a very satisfying friendship between a young boy and an almost 500-year-old mythical bird. On vacation, young David climbs a mountain, only to find a miraculous creature on a remote outcropping. Reading to himself in Spanish, a pompous but endearing Phoenix begins a conversation with the lonely boy. Although Phoenix had been planning to leave for South America, he stays with David to educate the boy about legendary creatures--a gryffin, witch, banshee, Leprechaun, faun, and sea monster. However, since the Phoenix is being pursued by a stubborn scientist intent on capturing the exotic bird, their adventures take a serious turn as they seek to outwit the scientist.
Out of print for many years, David and the Phoenix became available again after the success of Harry Potter, delighting old fans and gaining many new ones. For a slightly younger audience than the Potter series, the book serves as an excellent introduction to fantasy and mythological creatures. When Professor Gerald Early of Washington University discovered the book as a young boy, he found added wisdom in this lighthearted and humorous story.
The book that most deeply affected me as a child was Edward Ormondroyd's David and the Phoenix. I read the book when I was about ten, I think, which means sometime in the early 1960s. So, the book was still recent, although in my childish mind 1957 seemed some time ago. I remember distinctly that I read the book while I was home from school for a week with a bad case of the flu. Because I suffered from asthma, my mother was particularly concerned that the illness would set off an attack, so I was confined to bed, surrounded by most of the objects I liked: my toy guns and holster (modeled after those used by Paladin on a television show called Have Gun--Will Travel), my comic books, my toy soldiers, my marbles, my baseball cards, and a toy robot called Great Garloo, which I think was manufactured by Marx as the owner's "personal slave." It is striking that I had so many possessions because I grew up in such modest economic circumstances. My mother, a window, worked part-time, so I was home by myself for a good portion of the day.
I don't remember how I came to David and the Phoenix. I just found it one day wandering around the house when my mother wasn't home. She had gotten a remainder copy from a secondhand shop in our neighborhood. It was priced on the inside cover at ten cents, but my mother rarely bought us books, so I suspect that the woman who owned the shop, named Laura, simply gave it to her as something for her children. "You have such good children," she would say. My sisters and I were very well liked in the neighborhood. We were thought to be very well-behaved and exceptional, bright Negro children. (I grew up in a largely Italian working-class neighborhood.)
I read the book slowly but persistently, savoring it. I loved it from the start. Of course, I identified with David, and every child wishes to have a secret friend like the Phoenix, a caring, older teacher who is a bit pompous but also more than a little funny. I did not understand many of the big words that the Phoenix used, but neither did David, so that intensified my identification with him
The death of the Phoenix at the end moved me more deeply than anything I had read or experienced to that point in my life. Its rebirth was a dramatic triumph that, unconsciously, made the Christian resurrection story far more real to me than anything in the Gospels themselves. "To lose your life and what you had and knew in order to be renewed": The Phoenix's death and rebirth made me cry. David and the Phoenix made me understand Christianity in a way that nothing else--certainty not the Bible--had. And the book was certainly not ostensibly a Christian but rather a pagan, mythological book.
After I finished reading it, I immediately reread it. For months afterward, I carried it around with me and reread selected parts. It has stayed with me a very long time, throughout my adult life.
So they rode till they came to a lake, which was a fair water and a broad, and in the middest of the lake King Arthur was ware of an arm clothed in white samite, that held a fair sword in the hand. "Lo," said Merlin, "yonder is that sword that I spake of." With that they saw a damsel going upon the lake.
"What damsel is that?" asked Arthur. "That is the Lady of the Lake," said Merlin; "and this damsel will come to you anon, and then speak ye fair to her that she will give you the sword." Anon withal came the damsel unto Arthur and saluted him, and he her again.
"Damsel," said Arthur, "what sword is that, that yonder the arm holdeth above the water? I would it were mine, for I have no sword."
"Sir king," said the damsel, "that sword is mine, and if ye will give me a gift when I ask it you, ye shall have it."
"By my faith," said Arthur, "I will give you what gift ye will ask."
"Well," said the damsel, "go ye into yonder barge and row yourself to the sword, and take it and the scabbard with you, and I will ask my gift when I see my time."
I wanted to grow up and become one of those knights who fought for the underdog against bullies.
edited by Sidney Lanier
It would be difficult for any modern reader to understand contemporary culture without knowledge of the Arthurian legends. References to the stories of King Arthur, his knights, his castle Camelot, and Queen Guinevere appear daily in newspapers, books, television, and movies. Fortunately, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King, and other books that helped evolve the legends have been frequently adapted for young readers.
Depending on the text, the Arthur stories usually include the legitimizing of his kingship when he pulls the sword Excalibur from a stone. As the wizard Merlin provides advice, Arthur establishes the Knights of the Round Table and its code of chivalry; he marries the beautiful Guinevere; the various knights (Launcelot of the Lake, Percival, Kay, Tristram, and Gawain) develop their own sagas. Then the knights engage in a quest for the Holy Grail. Two early-nineteenth-century publications--Howard Pyle's fourvolume Arthurian saga and Sidney Lanier's The Boy's King Arthur--set the standard for later adaptations for children. Founder of the Brandywine School of Illustration, Pyle crafted books particularly noteworthy for their bold black-and-white portraits of the knights and scenes from the legends; Lanier's volume was brilliantly illustrated in 1945 by N. C. Wyeth.
After reading these books, Public Defender Fred Friedman, host of Minnesota Public Radio's Fool Fred, decided he wanted to become one of the Knights of the Round Table.
The stories that influenced me the most were those about King Arthur and of the Knights of the Round Table. While other books, and there were plenty of them, taught me lessons or stirred my imagination or provided knowledge or gave me the will and skills to follow current events, Arthurian legends gave me all of this and more.
The first two King Arthur books I read were by Howard Pyle, The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, and Sidney Lanier, The Boy's King Arthur. I still have them fifty-one years later. Actually I wore out a copy of the Pyle book in the Village Woods school library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. On a weekend trip to Chicago, I took the "L" from my Uncle Mitchell's to Kroch's and Brentano's downtown on Wabash Avenue, right under the train tracks, and purchased my own Lanier.
King Arthur's tales provided me with lessons on the value of mentoring (Arthur's relationship with Merlin). They taught me about loyalty through the various knights and their allegiance to Arthur. They taught me about the importance of friendship (Launcelot). They stirred my admiration for the code of defending the weak and powerless. They introduced me to early and medieval Christianity. Why would everyone leave home and health and safety and family to quest for some cup called the Holy Grail? It got pretty difficult for a not-yet teenager to figure out the conflicts between love of wife (Guinevere) and love of best friend (Launcelot). And why would Arthur's own son say terrible things that resulted in the destruction of Arthur and his reign?
Today I feel that the King Arthur books were unnecessarily unkind to women. Too many of the women in the stories were bad news, especially Morgan Le Fay, Arthur's sister. How could he be deceived into having relations with his sister? And Vivian who seduced Merlin into a cave. With that scene I realized why Arthur was in the fiction section: Merlin was way too smart a wizard to he tricked by any sorceress. No way, I thought, would a smart older guy fall for the charms of a younger woman.
Of course, when you are in fourth grade in a new school in a new town and have the sophistication of coming from the big city (Chicago) with museums and ball clubs in both leagues, you know pretty much all there is to know. Imagine how smart I sounded a few years later when the writers were referring to the Kennedy administration as "Camelot."
After reading the King Arthur stories, I knew that I wanted to grow up to become one of those 150 knights who fought for the underdog against bullies with too much power.
Everybody knows that Maniac Magee (then Jeffrey) started out in Hollidaysburg and wound up in Two Mills. The question is: What took him so long? And what did he do along the way?
Sure, two hundred miles is a long way, especially on foot, but the year that it took him to cover it was about fifty-one weeks more than he needed--figuring the way he could run, even then.
The legend doesn't have the answer. That's why this period is known as The Lost Year.
And another question: Why did he stay here? Why Two Mills?
Of course, there's the obvious answer that sitting right across the Schuylkill is Bridgeport, where he was born. Yet there are other theories. Some say he just got tired of running. Some say it was the butterscotch Krimpets. And some say he only intended to pause here but that he stayed because he was so happy to make a friend.
If you listen to everybody who claims to have seen Jeffrey-Maniac Magee that first day, there must have been ten thousand people and a parade of fire trucks waiting for him at the town limits. Don't believe it. A couple of people truly remember, and here's what they saw: a scraggly little kid jogging toward them, the soles of both sneakers hanging by their hinges and flopping open like dog tongues each time they came up from the pavement.
But it was something they heard that made him stick in their minds all these years. As he passed them, he said, "Hi." Just that--"Hi"--and he was gone. They stopped, they blinked, they turned, they stared after him, they wondered: Do I know that kid? Because people just didn't say that to strangers, out of the blue.
A new role model
by Jerry Spinelli
Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee pulls readers in immediately: "They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring. They say he kept an eight-inch cockroach on a leash." Jeffrey Lionel Magee, an orphan, runs away from his guardians and refuses to live by anyone's rules. As he keeps doing one amazing thing after another, the legends about this idiosyncratic hero grow and evolve. He begins, however, to make a difference in the small town of Two Mills, Pennsylvania, where he longs to have an address that he can call home. Humor, heart, and wit underscore the narrative, as well as serious issues about the nature of family and the nature of prejudice. Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1991, Maniac Magee has attracted a wide audience of children.
Singer-songwriter and actor Tyler Hilton of the popular television show One Tree Hill tells how he was beguiled into reading by Maniac Magee.
Every now and then a book comes along that grips your attention and stays with you long after the book is put down. When I was ten or eleven, I read Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and found it to be that kind of book. I had never thought I could be so excited about a book. After all, a book wasn't a toy or anything fun like that! But then I met Maniac Magee, a mysterious young wanderlust of a kid, and knew that I had a new role model. This was the first book, from what I can remember, that I actually talked about to other kids my age. It's just one of those that get you talking. The best kind.
They waited patiently for what seemed a very long time, stamping in the snow to keep their feet warm. At last they heard the sound of slow shuffling footsteps approaching the door from the inside. It seemed, as the Mole remarked to the Rat, like some one walking in carpet slippers that were too large for him and down-at-heel; which was intelligent of Mole, because that was exactly what it was.
There was the noise of a bolt shot back, and the door opened a few inches, enough to show a long snout and a pair of sleepy blinking eyes.
"Now, the very next time this happens," said a gruff and suspicious voice, "I shall be exceedingly angry. Who is it this time, disturbing people on such a night? Speak up!"
"O, Badger," cried the Rat, "let us in, please. It's me, Rat, and my friend Mole, and we've lost our way in the snow."
"What, Ratty, my dear man!" exclaimed the Badger, in quite a different voice. "Come along in, both of you, at once. Why, you must be perished. Well I Never! Lost in the snow! And in the Wild Wood, too, and at this time of night! But come in with you."
The two animals tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get inside, and heard the door shut behind them with great joy and relief.
The Badger, who wore a long dressinggown, and whose slippers were indeed very down-at-heel, carried a flat candlestick in his paw and had probably been on his way to bed when their summons sounded. He looked kindly down on them and patted both their heads. "This is not the sort of night for small animals to be out," he said paternally. "I'm afraid you've been up to some of your pranks again, Ratty. But come along; come into the kitchen. There's a first-rate fire there, and supper and everything."
He shuffled on in front of them, carrying the light, and they followed him, nudging each other in an anticipating sort of way, down a long, gloomy, and, to tell the truth, decidedly shabby passage, into a sort of a central hall, out of which they could dimly see other long tunnel-like passages branching, passages mysterious and without apparent end. But there were doors in the hall as well--stout oaken comfortable-looking doors. One of these the Badger flung open, and at once they found themselves in all the glow and warmth of a large fire-lit kitchen.
If things are torn apart, we can make our world right again.
by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Ernest Shepard
A distinguished banker by profession, Kenneth Grahame became a father at the age of forty-one, and he began telling his son bedtime stories. Even when away from home, Grahame sent updates by mail. Eventually his wife convinced him to turn this sprawling story into a book, The Wind in the Willows.
In an idealized English countryside, Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad of Toad Hall engage in a series of adventures and antics. Toad's escapades capture the attention of young readers: He discovers the joy of riding around in cars, steals one, lands in prison, and escapes by dressing up as a woman. But the other characters explore more of the philosophical issues of the book--the love of hearth and home, the nature of friendship.
Published in 1908 in England, Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States, discovered The Wind in the Willows and brought a copy back to his own publisher, Charles Scribner's Sons. A. A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh, became another early advocate of the title and adapted it for the London stage. Now, for over a century, children and adults have come to echo Grahame's own words about the book, spoken to illustrator Ernest Shepard: "I love these little people; be kind to them." Children's book creator Thacher Hurd first discovered the book as a child.
The Wind in the Willows was given to me at Christmas when I was seven by my grandfather, John H. Thacher. I loved the settings, the coherent little world in which everything happened in a soothing way. I was fascinated by what Mr. Toad (surely the id personified) was going to do next. What new way was he going to find to get into trouble? But the subtler story is the friendship between Rat and Mole, a wonderful relationship that really anchored the book for me. I could see all the ways in which they cared about each other. The Earnest Shepard illustrations were also an important part of the book; these illustrations expressed the emotions perfectly.
I had such a feeling for the place of the story, with a river going through the whole book, and those incredible houses. Mole and Rat are lost in the woods, slightly terrified, and all of a sudden there is Badger in his down-at-the-heel slippers, welcoming them to his cozy home. Grahame wrote with such calm serenity; Grahame's characters go out, have adventures, but they come back to these cozy little houses.
When I was in college, I lived in a communal household with six or seven people. One night we gathered in a tiny bedroom at the back of the house. We scrunched together on the bed and around the floor, and we read The Wind in the Willows aloud to each other. The book cast a spell over us--a soothing, peaceful aura to our gathering--as it always does when one gives oneself over to the world of Rat, Mole, Badger, and Toad. So I read this book as a child, in college, and as an adult. At all these ages, I have responded to the deep reassurance of its stories. It has made me feel as if all is well in the world--that everything will be fine. These characters are so sturdy; they are so resourceful; they care about what is going on in the world; they keep their houses shipshape. At one point Rat and Mole come into Mole's disheveled house, where he hasn't been for months, and Mole is all weepy. But Rat says they can fix it up and make it better. What I learned from The Wind in the Willows is that subtle message: We can fix it, solve it, make it better. If things are torn apart, we can make our world right again.
For a moment after Mr. and Mrs. Darling left the house the night-lights by the beds of the three children continued to burn clearly. They were awfully nice little night-lights, and one cannot help wishing that they could have kept awake to see Peter; but Wendy's light blinked and gave such a yawn that the other two yawned also, and before they could close their mouths all three went out.
There was another light in the room now, a thousand times brighter than the night-lights, and in the time we have taken to say this, it has been in all the drawers in the nursery, looking for Peter's shadow, rummaged the wardrobe and turned every pocket inside out. It was not really a light; it made this light by flashing about so quickly, but when it came to rest for a second you saw it was a fairy, no longer than your hand, but still growing. It was a girl called Tinker Bell exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage. She was slightly inclined to embonpoint.
A moment after the fairy's entrance the window was blown open by the breathing of the little stars, and Peter dropped in. He had carried Tinker Bell part of the way, and his hand was still messy with the fairy dust.
"Tinker Bell," he called softly, after making sure that the children were asleep. "Tink, where are you?" She was in a jug for the moment, and liking it extremely; she had never been in a jug before.
"Oh, do come out of that jug, and tell me, do you know where they put my shadow?" The loveliest tinkle as of golden bells answered him. It is the fairy language. You ordinary children can never hear it, but if you were to hear it you would know that you had heard it once before.
Tink said that the shadow was in the big box. She meant the chest of drawers, and Peter jumped at the drawers, scattering their contents to the floor with both hands, as kings toss ha'pence to the crowd. In a moment he had recovered his shadow, and in his delight he forgot that he had shut Tinker Bell up in the drawer.
Gail Carson Levine
How precious is our term on earth.
by J. M. Barrie
Although the character of Peter Pan first appeared in 1902 in James Barrie's book The Little White Bird, Barrie developed Peter's personality on the stage in 1904. In this play he created some of the great iconic characters of the twentieth century--the crocodile with a ticking clock, Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, and of course everyone's favorite fairy, Tinker Bell. One night Wendy, John, and Michael Darling leave home and soar into the sky with Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up. They land on an enchanted island, Neverland, filled with fairies, mermaids, and pirates. All narrowly escape having to walk the plank; together they defeat Peter's archenemy, the villainous Captain Hook.
In 1911 Barrie created a book, Peter and Wendy, which provided added background and events. In a generous bequeath, he left the funds from the play and book to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. An act of Parliament extended those rights indefinitely, providing care for sick children as long as the hospital remains in operation.
New York Times best-selling writer Gail Carson Levine viewed life differently after she read the novel version of Peter's story.
I was a good child, too good for my own good. Peter Pan showed me other possibilities. Peter is self-absorbed, conceited, thoughtless, brave, and completely lovable. Tinker Bell is passionate: She tries to kill Wendy and saves Peter's life. Wendy and her brothers abandon their parents without a note or a backward look. They aren't orphans. They choose to leave. Wow!
After reading Peter Pan again and again and again, I was still mostly an obedient kid, but sometimes not. Sometimes I joined the league of heartless, selfish children. It was beneficial for me, if not for my parents.
Of course, there is more to Peter Pan than mischief. The book is subtle and wry. I had to become subtle myself to get it. Here's Barrie describing the Lost Boys who are twins: "Peter never quite knew what twins were, and his band were not allowed to know anything he did not know, so these two were always vague about themselves."
I've left the best for last: the poignancy of Neverland, where no one grows old. Wendy leaves, but I wanted to stay; I discovered how precious youth is and how precious is our term on earth.
Cat counted the Dog's teeth (and they looked very pointed) and he said, "I will be kind to the Baby while I am in the Cave, as long as he does not pull my tail too hard, for always and always and always. But still I am the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to me!"
"Not when I am near," said the Dog. "If you had not said that last I would have shut my mouth for always and always and always; but now I am going to hunt you up a tree whenever I meet you. And so shall all proper Dogs do after me."
Then the Man threw his two boots and his little stone axe (that makes three) at the Cat, and the Cat ran out of the Cave and the Dog chased him up a tree; and from that day to this, Best Beloved, three proper Men out of five will always throw things at a Cat whenever they meet him, and all proper Dogs will chase him up a tree. But the Cat keeps his side of the bargain too. He will kill mice, and he will be kind to Babies when he is in the house, just as long as they do not pull his tail too hard. But when he has done that, and between times, and when the moon gets up and night comes, he is the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to him. Then he goes out to the Wet Wild Woods or up the Wet Wild Trees or on the Wet Wild Roofs, waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone.
The yearning for wild places and wild experiences
JUST SO STORIES
by Rudyard Kipling
Today Rudyard Kipling's legacy rests on four titles, dramatically different in feeling and scope. The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, published in 1894 and 1895, consist of interlinking stories set in the Highlands of India. In these volumes, a human boy, Mowgli, is raised by wolves and instructed in the legends of the jungle. In Just So Stories Kipling provides humorous accounts of the development of certain animals, In Kim, a thrilling spy story, Kipling's most famous hero, Kimball O'Hara, an Irish orphan raised in India, joins a holy man from Tibet on a spiritual quest for "The River of the Arrow." As thirteen-year-old Kim grows up, he must reconcile his worldly life and his religious one.
Born in Bombay, India, in 1865, Rudyard Kipling was raised by an ayah; Hindustani served as his first language. Sent to England for his education, Kipling returned to India and worked as a journalist. But he wrote The Jungle Book and its sequel while living in Brattleboro, Vermont, where he moved because of his American wife. Eventually, Kipling returned to England; in 1907 he became the first English language writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Although his work has received harsh criticism for its British colonial attitudes, Kipling's stories for children have continued to delight young readers. Animals (such as the mongoose Rikki-tikki-tavi and the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake), memorable places ("the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River"), and completely satisfying places ("the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River"), and completely satisfying stories such as "The Elephant's Child" stand outside philosophy or politics.
Kipling's work provides for many children, as they did for naturalist and writer Peter Matthiessen, "a strange and fascinating passage into another world." His books also can be enjoyed again in the adult years; as Hugo and Nebula Award winner Ursula K. Le Guin says, Kim "accompanies its reader, like a wise, fascinating companion, through the rest of life."
As a child, I found a strange and fascinating passage into another world in Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories and The Jungle Book. His tales are filled with wild creatures--aloof, enigmatic, and even dangerous. In those days, my family lived in rural Connecticut, in a country of woodland and rocky hills, meadow and clear streams--a great variety of habitats for wild creatures, which seemed extraordinarily abundant. That was a time of boyhood expeditions in search of snakes and turtles and salamanders--small and harmless creatures, never scary like the wild animals of faraway jungles. But Kipling showed me a different world, in which the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. In Kipling's own black-and-white illustration, a black cat is walking away down a white snow track between bare black winter trees, and its wild tail is held high in the air; one can almost see that black tail twitch in exasperation. "I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me." That poetic and succinct statement of essential feline principles has drifted in my brain like a sliver of old song all these years.
In these books the young reader is gladly borne away to "the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees." The actual Limpopo River, now in Zimbabwe, is said to have many crocodiles, and is still, so far as I know, set about with fever trees (the beautiful yellow-barked acacia, found throughout much of subtropical Africa).
In The Jungle Book many of the stories have eerie qualities, beginning with the strange names of the book's denizens--Chuchundra the house rat, who never dares leave the wall for fear of the great cobras, Nag and Nagina; Rikki-tikki-tavi the mongoose, whose eyes turn red when he is angry and who "knew that all a grown mongoose's business in life was to fight and eat snakes."
Kipling was not simply a great storyteller but a gifted writer. I know the stories in these hooks instilled in me the yearning for wild places and wild experiences that was to become so important in my life. After Nag and Nagina, it seems to me no coincidence that my brother and I, as boys, became enthralled by snakes and caught any number of them. Today my brother is a marine biologist, while I am a writer who has observed and studied wildlife on every continent as well as undersea. Not surprising, one of my favorite places for research has been the jungle of The Jungle Book in India. Childhood reading can truly have a formative effect on later life.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Great writing--language that revels in its own gorgeous exaggeration, humor, nonsense, beauty, and perfect accuracy
Rudyard Kipling's politics are out of fashion, but he was a marvelous writer for young people, a source of endless delight and example. The Just So Stories offer young kids something they get all too seldom: really great writing--language that revels in its own gorgeous exaggeration, humor, nonsense, beauty, and perfect accuracy. "I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me."
The two volumes of the Jungle Books are worlds in themselves--not only the beautiful, tragic Indian jungle where we live among the wolves with Mowgli, but other unforgettable stories like "Rikki-tikki-tavi" and "The White Seal," where Man is only one among the wonders of creation. And then there is Kim, a grand, fascinating adventure, that reaches out into real mysticism in a way no other book accessible to children does, and accompanies its reader, like a wise, fascinating companion, through the rest of life.
Compilation copyright © 2009 by Anita Silvey
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