Sunday, September 30, 2007

Prayers for Journeyers

"Protect me, O Lord.
Your sea is so big,
and my boat is so small."
(Breton Fisherman's Prayer)

"Beyond these shores
Into the darkness
Beyond these shores
This boat may sail
And if this is the way
Then there will be
A path across this sea.

And if I sail beyond
The farthest ocean
Or lose myself in depths below
Wherever I may go
Your love surrounds me
For You have been before
Beyond these shores."

(Prayer to Christ, attributed to St. Brendan the Navigator)

Friday, September 28, 2007


I’m re-reading some scenes from Deathly Hallows again. After my initial two readings this summer, I needed to put the book aside for a while, just to savor the ending (and grieve some too). But lately I’ve brought it back out.

The sweet girl has been fascinated with this book since the morning of July 21st when we picked it up in the bookstore. I don’t know which fascinated her more: the size, the riveting (and colorful) cover, or the fact that Mommy was glued to the book for hours, reading whenever she could. At any rate, according to her Daddy, the book caught her eye again yesterday afternoon. He found her trying to sound out the words on the cover.

In the category of things I wish I’d overheard...

S: (trying to sound out the word): "Rrr-ow-ll-ing."(which she pronounced to sound like growling) "Rowling’s not a word!"

D: It’s a name.

S: (sounding amused) "A name for a lion!"

Which I actually thought was pretty fitting, considering it’s the name of the woman who invented the house of Godric Gryffindor. Long may those Gryffindor lions rr-ow-ll!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Conversation Before Nap

Sweet Girl: Mommy, could we read The Flopsy Bunnies before nap?

Me: Sure, sweetie. I thought you might want to read one of your new books from the library, but we can wait and read one of those after nap.

S: Can't we read both?

M: No, Flopsy Bunnies is pretty long and it's getting late.

S: Can we please tell Beatrix Potter not to write such long stories when it's getting late?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Literary Birthdays: Celebrating Robert McCloskey and Tomie dePaola

Two important birthdays on the literary calendar this weekend! September 14 (or 15th, depending on sources...I've seen both dates) marks the birth of writer and illustrator Robert McCloskey.

Ohio-born McCloskey was born in 1914 and passed away in the summer of 2003. Although born in Ohio (the setting of his book Lentil) he is probably most associated with Boston, the setting of his wonderful Caldecott award winning Make Way for Ducklings. And most of all, he is probably associated with Maine, a state I've never visited but almost feel as though I have through several of his wonderful picture books. It's hard to choose, but I think my very favorite will always be Blueberries for Sal. McCloskey was a wonderful story-teller whose old-fashioned illustrations help new generations envision what pockets of America looked like in the 1940s and 50s.

And happy birthday to Tomie dePaola, born today in 1934 so turning 73 (just a couple of years younger than my parents)! Tomie has enriched the lives of so many families through his many wonderful books. We've loved a bunch of them, but have especially enjoyed his illustrated Bible stories, folks tales, and stories of saints. He has a colorful, almost primitive style that children respond to with enthusiasm. One of the very first Christmas books my little girl ever enjoyed was Tomie's Little Christmas Pageant, a lovely introduction to the story of the nativity for toddlers and preschoolers.

Thank you, Robert and Tomie, for enriching our lives.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Editors and Family Talk About Madeleine

I may just keep posting favorite tributes for a while, as I keep finding more. I just got Publisher's Weekly in my inbox, and loved reading these memories and anecdotes from some of Madeleine's editors and from her beloved granddaughter Charlotte.

I was sad to find, via Charlotte's reflections, that her grandmother didn't like Jane Austen! Hmm...Madeleine didn't like either Austen or Rowling (though I think had she persevered with Harry, she might have changed her mind...there was lots more "under the surface" there than she realized after reading the first book).

Well, as Madeleine herself said, "different strokes for different folks." Grin.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More Tributes to Madeleine

Besides the daily digest posts from Bonastra (the online L'Engle discussion community of which I've been a part for the past decade) I'm finding that my favorite tributes to the complex life and work of Madeleine L'Engle are coming through blogs. Standard obituaries just don't seem made for dealing with complexities. And it's most moving and illuminating to hear about how her writing truly influenced or shaped real people's lives, especially since she was such an intensely personal writer.

One of my favorite tributes so far is by Terry Mattingly and can be found here at the Get Religion website.

I also appreciated Janet Batchler's reflections on what Madeleine and her writing meant to her. Regina Doman's thoughtful and astute comment on that posting is also well worth reading and reflecting on.

If you've read other L'Engle tributes that you've found moving, feel free to post links in the comments. Or add your own thoughts and reflections...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


The sweet girl has always been intrigued by homonyms. One of her favorite sentences, and a sentence that has now graced our refrigerator (in plastic letter magnets) for several months, is "A bare bear has no clothes." She and her Daddy had a terrific time coming up with that one, and discussing the differences between "bare" and "bear," a discussion which never ceases to fascinate her. (It helps a lot that she dresses several of her teddy bears each day!).

Today we were reading the wonderful James Herriot story "Only One Woof." We read all of the stories in James Herriot's Treasury for Children last fall, but it's been long enough ago that she doesn't remember the stories well (a year can feel like a really long time to a five year old!). I've loved Herriot's stories myself, both for children and adults, for years, and autumn just feels like the right time to get them back out again.

"Only One Woof" is the story of a sheepdog...well, two sheepdogs, Gyp and Sweep, who are brothers. One of the things I love about Herriot is that his vocabulary always challenges: he doesn't dumb things down for a young audience in any way. I stopped once in a while to explain a word, but mostly I let the wonderful, rustic Yorkshire music of his prose just play against our ears, knowing that most of the meaning will come out in the wash eventually, as it always does with good writing.

But this morning, S. suddenly stopped me. "Mommy," she said, looking puzzled, "what were the sheepdogs hearing?"

"What?" I asked, not understanding what she was asking.

"What are they HEARING?" she persisted. And I think she added something like "Are they hearing the sheep?"

Light dawned slowly, but it finally dawned. We had been reading about how the sheepdogs would "herd" the sheep. Quite sensibly, she thought they "heard" them. After all, sheep are noisy!

So now we have a new homonym to play with. The sheepdogs heard the sheep saying baa, and it was their job to herd them into the barnyard.

For a very fun and thorough list of homonyms, check out this great website which I just stumbled onto this afternoon.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

For Madeleine, May All Her Seasons Be Blessed

How shall we sing our love's song now
In this strange land where all are born to die?
Each tree and leaf and star show how
The universe is part of this one cry,
That every life is noted and is cherished,
And nothing loved is ever lost or perished.

(~ from A Ring of Endless Light)

Madeleine L'Engle Camp Franklin died on Thursday, September 6. This coming November 29, she would have been 89 years old.

I've been trying since last evening to come here and post something...something to adequately convey how much I loved Madeleine L'Engle and her writing, and what her books have meant to me for the past 28 years. Instead, I spent a while last night crying, then pulling some of my favorite books from my L'Engle shelves, reading, smiling, laughing, and finally crying a little more.

Lest anyone think it strange that I was grieving the death of someone I'd never actually met, know that I felt as though I'd known her, and known her well, since I was eleven. Her writing, both fiction and non-fiction, carried with it a very authentic and intimate voice. Over the years, I also wrote her a handful of times, and she was always so gracious to respond. Two personal notes I remember in particular came at very different seasons in my life: one a note encouraging the writing aspirations of an enthusiastic and eager sixteen year old, one a note wishing blessings on me and my new husband (I sent her a wedding invitation because when it came down to thinking about important members of my life community, she was on the list).

Her writing has shaped me and helped me in so many ways. She helped me think about life in terms of seasons; she helped me learn to order my time and count it as precious. She taught me the importance of names and naming, and what a precious gift it is to be given the gift of someone's name. She taught me to hope and believe that marriage, even or especially in its difficult times, could still grow and flourish. She reminded me to be honest in my prayers. Time and again, she returned my focus to God's amazing love for his beloved creation, and especially turned my eyes again and again to the incarnation and the wonderful gift of Jesus.

That I still try to live a writing life in any way is partly due to her encouragement. That I am an Anglican is also attributable to her, at least in part, for it was Madeleine who introduced me to the beauty of the seasons of the church year.

That introduction came about in her book The Irrational Season. It was the first of her non-fiction books I'd ever read. I'd spent most of my adolescence reading her fiction for both children and adults. On my 18th birthday, my sister Martha gave me a copy of The Irrational Season, one of what's known as the "Crosswicks" journals, a series of confessional type reflections Madeleine wrote mostly in the 70s.

My sister had just gone to a Madeleine L'Engle reading at the University of Connecticut. She had a chance to meet her, and Madeleine signed my book. "For Beth, May all your seasons be blessed." I have a feeling that it was a standard line she wrote in many people's books, but that doesn't mean I didn't treasure the message, especially given all that I had already come to learn from her (and more I would come to learn) about seasons and blessings. She was so important to me in so many seasons. Two of her books in particular helped me through deep, growing times: A Ring of Endless Light, which helped me navigate adolescence, and A Severed Wasp, the only novel I could really read during the one brief period of my life that I went through a serious depression.

Over the years, I read some of her books so many times that they're yellowed and practically in tatters. I still have my first copy of Wrinkle, and it's literally been read to pieces! Last night as I prowled through my L'Engle shelves, I realized I really think of them in those terms, because I have two complete shelves (over 40 of her books) set aside just for her work.

There's so much more I could say...and maybe I will later. But for now, I just wanted to say thank you, Madeleine, and blessings to you in your new journey into the fullness of glory. Thank you for your stories, and for passing on to me your deep, deep love of story and the Story. May all your seasons be blessed. May you feast at the essential table and enjoy the companionship of all the saints, including your beloved Hugh and Bion. And may you finally get that heavenly music lesson with Grandpa Bach that you so long anticipated!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"What in the Wumberly World..."

The sweet girl had a hard day..she didn't seem to be feeling well, and kept complaining of tiredness. I let her have some extra rest time on the couch. She was lounging against the pillows, cuddling her stuffed giraffes, when all of a sudden a very loud engine (like a motorcycle revving) sounded on the street just outside our front windows. She sat up startled. "What in the wumberly world WAS THAT?" she asked.

And I had to laugh. The phrase comes from one of her favorite poems at the moment, "The Llama Who Had No Pajama." I say one of her favorite poems because she's also adoring "The Seven Silly Eaters." Both poems are by Mary Ann Hoberman, whom we've only recently discovered. The sweet girl has always enjoyed poetry, but she's just been riveted with these poems (and they're long, both of them). She was fascinated with the world "wumberly" and the fact that it was made up. I've noticed a sudden upsurge in her own playing with language and that she's sometimes making up new words of her own.

So a long, hard day all around, and we're all tired...but that one moment just felt so "wumberly" I had to share it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Reading Round-Up: End of Summer Edition

I can't remember the last time I posted a list of what I've recently read/am currently reading...and of course what I'm hoping to read!

Here's at least a partial listing from the past few months, based on hasty scribblings from my journal.

I recently read:
Austenland and Princess Academy, both by Shannon Hale. I started with Austenland, which is Hale's most recent novel, and her first written for adults. I enjoyed it, but from the notes about the author discovered she was best known for her young adult work. So I went and found Princess Academy, which won a Newbery Honor in 2006, I think. And I loved it. I mean, LOVED it. This is a beautiful book that deserves to be read, savored, and then read again. I plan to review it for epinions soon.

This was also, of course, the summer of Harry Potter. I finished my re-read of the first six books with a couple of weeks to spare, and then laughed and cried my way through Deathly Hallows, which I've already re-read once in total (and parts of it several times). A marvelous and fitting end to a series that deserves to be around (and will be, I think) for generations. Thank you, J.K. Rowling. In the lead-up to book 7 this summer, I also read John Granger's excellent Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader.

I read a good bit of juvenile and young adult literature this summer. A couple of "oldies" -- Richard Atwater's Mr. Popper's Penguins (did that as a read-aloud with my penguin loving daughter) and Lois Lenski's Strawberry Girl, different than I expected but satisfying, and with those familiar Lenski illustrations. Nikki Grime's Road to Paris, much more recent, and as always, a treat. (I love Grimes' work.) It's occuring to me as I write all of these down that I've reviwed almost none of them. Must remedy that sometime... it's been a busy few months.

On the non-fiction front, I've been reading at several things:
N.T. Wright's Evil and the Justice of God. A good book, and a helpful book, I think -- there are a couple of sections in particular that I really want to go back to. I'm in the final chapter, savoring it, and plan to review this soon too. Susan Wise Bauer's History of the Ancient World. Excellent read thus far. I got going for a while and couldn't put it down, then needed to take a break. It's quite a tome. I am planning on it getting me through some chilly autumn and possibly even a few cold winter nights. In addition to being wonderful reading just for my own enrichment, the preparation is oh so helpful as I contemplate tackling ancient history with the sweet girl during her first grade year. Bauer has written a "younger" version of these for children, which I checked out of the library and skimmed. It's a "must have" book for us during the elementary years, I can tell.

And while I'm on the subject of schooling, I've been reading Ruth Beechick's The Three Rs, a fine little book on simple but life-giving approaches to teaching young children the basics of reading, writing and math.

I haven't enjoyed a good book ABOUT writing in a long time, so was delighted to discover William K. Zinsser's On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction. Hey, it's been around for a quarter century or more, but it's new to me! I only managed to read a few chapters before I had to return it to the library (it was on loan from another branch and someone had put it on hold) but I'm going to get this one again. It's the first sort of "how-to" book I've ever read that I found myself nodding in agreement over...because he's describing writing and revising processes that I've actually put into practice. And more and more, I find myself drawn to writing non-fiction.

I read most of a book called LifeShapes, a book on Christian discipleship by Mike Breen and Walt Kallestad. D's at all all-day conference with Breen today, and I'll be interested to hear insights from that.

My fascination with the Snape/Lily backstory (so tantalizing and so brief) from Deathly Hallows has led me to think more about the courtly love tradition. I've been re-reading Petrarch's Sonnets & Songs from Laura's Lifetime; bits of C.S. Lewis' The Allegory of Love; and some bits of Petrarch's My Secret Book (this last a challenge -- it's a Ciceronian dialogue between Petrach and an imagined St. Augustine). I've only dipped my toes in on the whole courtly love tradition, but the fascination persists, so I'll keep trying to dip as I can find the time.

Fiction: I've barely started Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, my attempt at a classic during the last half of this year. I've not gotten far enough into it for it to grab me yet; I'll let you know when it does!

With the youth fellowship group, we've taken a break from Plantinga and Wright and are studying 2 Peter from the New Testament.

Family Reading/Read-Alouds: The sweet girl and I just finished Little House in the Big Woods, and now are mid-way through The Boxcar Children. We're having read-aloud time of longer books every day.

Some of the other books she's loved this summer (and I've enjoyed reading to her, often over and over!): Shirley Hughes' Evening at Alife's; Alfie Gets in First; Alfie's Feet; Abel's Moon. Bob Hartman's The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book. The Big Picture Bible. The Bob Books (phonetic readers). The Caterpillar That Roared. Ladybugs. Where's the Green Sheep? Bunny Day. I don't have authors handy for all of these latter books, but they've all been favorites.

No time now to write about what I hope to read this fall...I'd like to find an autumn reading challenge to join again, but if not, I'll just make up my own!

Monday, September 03, 2007

My Favorite Question This Morning

I love the sweet girl's questions. Her fascination with history is especially fun.

This morning we talked about different periods of time in history, and times when certain things had been invented. She was completely fascinated to think of a world without computers. I told her that her grandparents had not grown up with computers and that even her Daddy and I had not really grown up with them, that we'd learned to use them when we were young adults. I explained that people didn't have computers in their homes much until the 1980s. She looked utterly intrigued if not a bit baffled, and then asked:

"But before they invented computers, what did people do when they needed to do something on the computer?"