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1. Which mythological creature are you? [Quiz]

Today, we're looking at the less fashionable side of this partnership and focussing our attention on the creatures that mortals feared and heroes vanquished. Does your gaze turn others to stone? Do you prefer ignorance or vengeance? Have any wings? Take this short quiz to find out which mythological creature or being you would have been in the ancient world.

The post Which mythological creature are you? [Quiz] appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Geography in the ancient world

Imagine how the world appeared to the ancient Greeks and Romans: there were no aerial photographs (or photographs of any sort), maps were limited and inaccurate, and travel was only by foot, beast of burden, or ship. Traveling more than a few miles from home meant entering an unfamiliar and perhaps dangerous world.

The post Geography in the ancient world appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. The Brownstone by Paula Scher, pictures by Stan Mack


Originally published in 1972, Princeton Architectural Press has brought The Brownstone, a fantastic classic, back to the shelves in a beautiful new edition. Written by Paula Scher, graphic designer and partner at the international design consultancy Pentagram, The Brownstone is her only book for children. Illustrations are by cartoonist Stan Mack, who's work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine and Adweek. The Brownstone definitely looks like it's from the 70s, but the story and illustrations are timeless. I read this book over and over to classes of all ages and they were enthralled!


The story in The Brownstone is simple, but the solution to the problem the residents of the brownstone face is not... As he is walking home from work one day, Mr. Bear "noticed a familiar chill in the air." It is time for the Bear family to take their long winter nap. But, the theatrical Miss Cat is howling away at her baby grand, making any kind of sleep impossible, let alone hibernation.



A climb to the third floor apartment of the landlord, Mr. Owl, seems to bring about a resolution - and a move for more than a few residents. But, as you might expect, a move for one tenant means an upset for another. One thing that I learned right away from the teachers that I work with is to encourage students to make predictions when reading a story, and The Brownstone is the perfect book for this kind of endeavor.

 Every other page turn presents a new situation, a new combination of tenants with different hobbies and needs and it is so much fun to pause and ask listeners what they think will happen next - will this be a good move with everyone happy or will someone have another complaint? The kids love guessing and The Brownstone is a treat to read out loud and a great lesson on the complexities and rewards of living in harmony!

Source: Review Copy

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4. Anne of Green Gables (1908)

Anne of Green Gables. L.M. Montgomery. 1908. 448 pages. [Source: Bought]

I plan on rereading all the Anne books this year. I definitely wanted Anne of Green Gables to be one of the first books I read--or reread this year. It is such a dear favorite of mine. I couldn't begin to give an accurate accounting of just how many times I've read it. Out of all the Anne books, I think I love the first and last best of all. I think it only right that you begin and end the series in tears.

Anne of Green Gables introduces readers to Anne Shirley, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, Rachel Lynde, Diana Barry, and Gilbert Blythe. And that's just naming a few. By the time you've read and reread this one a couple of times, the whole community seems to come alive.

The absolute basics: Anne Shirley is an eleven year old orphan who arrives in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. Marilla and Matthew are a brother-and-sister looking to adopt...a boy. Earlier miscommunication ultimately leads our heroine, young Ann-with-an-e, to the depths of despair. But Matthew, even before he arrives back at Green Gables with Anne, has decided HE WANTS TO KEEP HER FOREVER AND EVER. Marilla is not ready to say "yes" that quickly. Though as you might predict, she does end up keeping her...and loving her dearly.

The book relates to readers her adventures and misadventures. There is never a dull moment because our heroine never makes the same mistake twice. Here are a few additional characters you should know:
  
Diana Barry is Anne's bosom friend. These two are inseparable from their first meeting on. The two are not all that alike, but, they get along so splendidly. Anne forgives Diana her lack of imagination as I would imagine most readers do as well.

Gilbert Blythe is swoon-worthy. Wait, that's me talking. Gilbert is technically the cutest boy in Avonlea. When he first sees Anne, he calls her "Carrots." He desperately wants her attention. But he ends up making an enemy. Anne may forgive Diana her lack of imagination, but, she won't forgive the oh-so-cute boy who called her CARROTS. For most of the book, these two are academic rivals.

Rachel Lynde is Marilla's best friend, for better or worse, and without a doubt the town's biggest gossip. Her first impression of Anne is quickly replaced with a much nicer one after Anne apologizes beautifully. Rachel has a 'soft spot' for Anne, and is, in fact, the one who sews up Anne's first dress with puffed sleeves.

The book is written from multiple points of view. Readers get to know Anne, of course, but also Matthew and Marilla. (The first chapter is told from Rachel Lynde's point of view.) I didn't really pay much attention to how much Marilla we get in this first book in the series until I was an adult. But in many ways, this is Marilla's "coming of age" story just as much as it is Anne's.

Quotes:
The long platform was almost deserted; the only living creature in sight being a girl who was sitting on a pile of shingles at the extreme end. Matthew, barely noting that it WAS a girl, sidled past her as quickly as possible without looking at her. Had he looked he could hardly have failed to notice the tense rigidity and expectation of her attitude and expression. She was sitting there waiting for something or somebody and, since sitting and waiting was the only thing to do just then, she sat and waited with all her might and main.
A child of about eleven, garbed in a very short, very tight, very ugly dress of yellowish-gray wincey. She wore a faded brown sailor hat and beneath the hat, extending down her back, were two braids of very thick, decidedly red hair. Her face was small, white and thin, also much freckled; her mouth was large and so were her eyes, which looked green in some lights and moods and gray in others. 
"Would you rather I didn’t talk? If you say so I’ll stop. I can STOP when I make up my mind to it, although it’s difficult.” 
But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E.” “What difference does it make how it’s spelled?” asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot. “Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can’t you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. 
It’s all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it’s not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?
“Do you never imagine things different from what they really are?” asked Anne wide-eyed. “No.” “Oh!” Anne drew a long breath. “Oh, Miss — Marilla, how much you miss!”
Somehow, things never are so good when they’re thought out a second time.
“Saying one’s prayers isn’t exactly the same thing as praying,” said Anne meditatively. 
Boiled pork and greens are so unromantic when one is in affliction. 
Isn’t it good just to be alive on a day like this? I pity the people who aren’t born yet for missing it. They may have good days, of course, but they can never have this one. 
“I think your Gilbert Blythe IS handsome,” confided Anne to Diana, “but I think he’s very bold. It isn’t good manners to wink at a strange girl.” But it was not until the afternoon that things really began to happen. 
Gilbert Blythe wasn’t used to putting himself out to make a girl look at him and meeting with failure. She SHOULD look at him, that red-haired Shirley girl with the little pointed chin and the big eyes that weren’t like the eyes of any other girl in Avonlea school. Gilbert reached across the aisle, picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid, held it out at arm’s length and said in a piercing whisper: “Carrots! Carrots!” Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance! She did more than look. She sprang to her feet, her bright fancies fallen into cureless ruin. She flashed one indignant glance at Gilbert from eyes whose angry sparkle was swiftly quenched in equally angry tears. “You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!” 
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill — several thrills? I’m going to decorate my room with them.” 
I love bright red drinks, don’t you? They taste twice as good as any other color. 
Well, I suppose I must finish up my lessons. I won’t allow myself to open that new book Jane lent me until I’m through. But it’s a terrible temptation, Matthew. Even when I turn my back on it I can see it there just as plain. Jane said she cried herself sick over it. I love a book that makes me cry. But I think I’ll carry that book into the sitting room and lock it in the jam closet and give you the key. And you must NOT give it to me, Matthew, until my lessons are done, not even if I implore you on my bended knees. It’s all very well to say resist temptation, but it’s ever so much easier to resist it if you can’t get the key. 
You didn’t know just how I felt about it, but you see Matthew did. Matthew understands me, and it’s so nice to be understood, Marilla. 
“It’s because you’re too heedless and impulsive, child, that’s what. You never stop to think — whatever comes into your head to say or do you say or do it without a moment’s reflection.” “Oh, but that’s the best of it,” protested Anne. “Something just flashes into your mind, so exciting, and you must out with it. If you stop to think it over you spoil it all. Haven’t you never felt that yourself, Mrs. Lynde?”
When Miss Barry went away she said: “Remember, you Anne-girl, when you come to town you’re to visit me and I’ll put you in my very sparest spare-room bed to sleep.” “Miss Barry was a kindred spirit, after all,” Anne confided to Marilla. “You wouldn’t think so to look at her, but she is. You don’t find it right out at first, as in Matthew’s case, but after a while you come to see it. Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.
“Yes; but cakes have such a terrible habit of turning out bad just when you especially want them to be good,” sighed Anne.
“Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” “I’ll warrant you’ll make plenty in it,” said Marilla.
Mrs. Lynde says I’m full of original sin. No matter how hard I try to be good I can never make such a success of it as those who are naturally good. It’s a good deal like geometry, I expect. But don’t you think the trying so hard ought to count for something?
It isn’t very pleasant to be laid up; but there is a bright side to it, Marilla. You find out how many friends you have.
Mrs. Allan says we should never make uncharitable speeches; but they do slip out so often before you think, don’t they? I simply can’t talk about Josie Pye without making an uncharitable speech, so I never mention her at all. You may have noticed that. I’m trying to be as much like Mrs. Allan as I possibly can, for I think she’s perfect.
“Isn’t this evening just like a purple dream, Diana? It makes me so glad to be alive. In the mornings I always think the mornings are best; but when evening comes I think it’s lovelier still.”
Mr. Allan says everybody should have a purpose in life and pursue it faithfully. Only he says we must first make sure that it is a worthy purpose. I would call it a worthy purpose to want to be a teacher like Miss Stacy, wouldn’t you, Marilla? I think it’s a very noble profession.
Why can’t women be ministers, Marilla? I asked Mrs. Lynde that and she was shocked and said it would be a scandalous thing. She said there might be female ministers in the States and she believed there was, but thank goodness we hadn’t got to that stage in Canada yet and she hoped we never would. But I don’t see why. I think women would make splendid ministers. When there is a social to be got up or a church tea or anything else to raise money the women have to turn to and do the work. I’m sure Mrs. Lynde can pray every bit as well as Superintendent Bell and I’ve no doubt she could preach too with a little practice.” “Yes, I believe she could,” said Marilla dryly. “She does plenty of unofficial preaching as it is. Nobody has much of a chance to go wrong in Avonlea with Rachel to oversee them.”
There are so many things to be thought over and decided when you’re beginning to grow up. It keeps me busy all the time thinking them over and deciding what is right. It’s a serious thing to grow up, isn’t it, Marilla? But when I have such good friends as you and Matthew and Mrs. Allan and Miss Stacy I ought to grow up successfully, and I’m sure it will be my own fault if I don’t.
As Mrs. Lynde says, ‘If you can’t be cheerful, be as cheerful as you can.’
It’s good advice, but I expect it will be hard to follow; good advice is apt to be, I think.
“No, I wasn’t crying over your piece,” said Marilla, who would have scorned to be betrayed into such weakness by any poetry stuff. “I just couldn’t help thinking of the little girl you used to be, Anne. And I was wishing you could have stayed a little girl, even with all your queer ways. You’ve grown up now and you’re going away; and you look so tall and stylish and so — so — different altogether in that dress — as if you didn’t belong in Avonlea at all — and I just got lonesome thinking it all over.”
It won’t make a bit of difference where I go or how much I change outwardly; at heart I shall always be your little Anne, who will love you and Matthew and dear Green Gables more and better every day of her life.
“Wouldn’t Matthew be proud if I got to be a B.A.? Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them — that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.”
“That Anne-girl improves all the time,” she said. “I get tired of other girls — there is such a provoking and eternal sameness about them. Anne has as many shades as a rainbow and every shade is the prettiest while it lasts. I don’t know that she is as amusing as she was when she was a child, but she makes me love her and I like people who make me love them. It saves me so much trouble in making myself love them.”
For we pay a price for everything we get or take in this world; and although ambitions are well worth having, they are not to be cheaply won, but exact their dues of work and self-denial, anxiety and discouragement. 
“Well now, I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne,” said Matthew patting her hand. “Just mind you that — rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn’t a boy that took the Avery scholarship, was it? It was a girl — my girl — my girl that I’m proud of.” He smiled his shy smile at her as he went into the yard. Anne took the memory of it with her when she went to her room that night and sat for a long while at her open window, thinking of the past and dreaming of the future. 
It was the last night before sorrow touched her life; and no life is ever quite the same again when once that cold, sanctifying touch has been laid upon it. 
Marilla, I’ve almost decided to give up trying to like Josie Pye. I’ve made what I would once have called a heroic effort to like her, but Josie Pye won’t BE liked. 
When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla. I wonder how the road beyond it goes — what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows — what new landscapes — what new beauties — what curves and hills and valleys further on. 
“Dear old world,” she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.” 
“‘God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world,’” whispered Anne softly. softly. 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Ten things you may not have known about Greek gods and goddesses

Greek gods and goddesses have been a part of cultural history since ancient times, but how much do you really know about them? You can learn more about these figures from Greek mythology by reading the lesser known facts below and by visiting the newly launched Oxford Classical Dictionary online.

The post Ten things you may not have known about Greek gods and goddesses appeared first on OUPblog.

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6. The truth about “Auld Lang Syne”

"I may say, of myself and Copperfield, in words we have sung together before now, that
'We twa hae run about the braes
And pu’d the gowans fine'
'—in a figurative point of view—on several occasions. I am not exactly aware,' said Mr. Micawber, with the old roll in his voice, and the old indescribable air of saying something genteel, ‘what gowans may be, but I have no doubt that Copperfield and myself would have frequently taken a pull at them, if it had been feasible.'"

Over the years since it was written, many millions must have sung ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (roughly translated as ‘days long past’) while sharing Mr Micawber’s ignorance of what of its words actually mean.

The post The truth about “Auld Lang Syne” appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh | Book Review

Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh, is an incredibly funny book—anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will certainly relate to Harriet.

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8. Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon. Pat Frank. 1959/2005. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 323 pages. [Source: Bought]

I spent the whole year of 2015 meaning to read Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon. So I decided that this year, it would be one of the very first books I read. I wasn't going to let another year pass before I sat down to reread this sci-fi classic.

Alas, Babylon was originally published in 1959. I think it is crucial to remember that fact as you're reading. The book is set during the Cold War, published during the Cold War, and asks the question: WHAT IF the Soviet Union uses nuclear warfare and attacks various cities and bases across the whole United States. Would there be survivors? How would people survive? What would they eat and drink? Not just in the initial weeks following the nuclear war, but, more long-term than that. How would they cope--how would they manage--without electricity, without batteries (once they ran out), without cars (once all the gas was gone), without new supplies arriving by truck or plane, etc. Would communities come together or be torn apart? How would people deal with one another, treat one another? Would lawlessness prevail? Would fear and anger and greed win the day? Or would people still look out for one another?

Alas, Babylon is not just a what-if story, however. It is a personal story, that I felt remained character-driven. It stars Randy Bragg and his family. His brother, Mark, sends Randy a warning in a telegram, "Alas, Babylon" their code for the end is coming, war is inevitable, be prepared. Randy prepares to receive his sister-in-law, niece, and nephew into his Florida home. The book is set in a small community in Florida, a community that is fortunate in some ways--many ways. Readers get a chance to know quite a few of the locals in addition to this one family. For example, the local librarian who finds herself most necessary to the community. The library COMES ALIVE after the attack, as people become desperate for information and news, for entertainment, etc.

I liked the practical aspects of Alas, Babylon. Unlike Life As We Knew It, I felt it handled the situation practically, logically. One of the big issues I had with Life As We Knew It, a book I love despite its flaws, was the fact that it got a few practical things wrong: for one, how people get water. It has the heroine's family getting well water through their pipes without an (electric) pump! Not the case with Alas, Babylon. If it has flaws, they didn't leap out at me.

Alas, Babylon is a thought-provoking novel. One I'd definitely recommend.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc. Mark Twain. 1895/1896. 452 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading Mark Twain's Joan of Arc? Yes, very much. Though perhaps not quite as much as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. But that isn't exactly fair to try to compare the two really; they are very different from one another.

Joan of Arc is narrated by Sieur Louis de Conte in his old age, 82 in the year 1492. He is attempting to tell the behind-the-scenes story of Joan of Arc. This telling begins in their childhood. He grew up with her, and, remained close to her and witnessed (almost) all the "big" events. He was even witness to her trials and served as a secretary or note-taker, I believe.

Is the book a comedy? Far from it. (Though there is that one scene about if a stomach can help in the committing of a crime that is funny. And also some great Paladin scenes. He's one of the companions--soldiers--and he's a STORYTELLER if ever there was.) Though a few asides from "the translator" (aka Mark Twain) do pack a little something. The book is properly a tragic history.

Some of my favorite quotes:
It was not my opinion; I think there is no sense in forming an opinion when there is no evidence to form it on. If you build a person without any bones in him he may look fair enough to the eye, but he will be limber and cannot stand up; and I consider that evidence is the bones of an opinion. 
And it is my thought that if one keep to the things he knows, and not trouble about the things which he cannot be sure about, he will have the steadier mind for it--and there is profit in that.
Discretion hasn't anything to do with brains; brains are an obstruction to it, for it does not reason, it feels. Perfect discretion means absence of brains. Discretion is a quality of the heart--solely a quality of the heart; it acts upon us through feeling.
Well, well a good and wholesome thing is a little harmless fun in this world; it tones a body up and keeps him human and prevents him from souring. 
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Back of the Bus

By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

 

It may seem strange perhaps to post a book on Rosa Parks’ act of defiance on December 1, 1955, to honor Martin Luther King on his national holiday, but as so many other events in history, they are interlinked. When Rosa Parks defied the Montgomery, Alabama city code that required them to not only sit in a separate section of the city buses, but to give up their seats if white passengers boarding, could not find seating in the all white section! Young readers need to be reminded how life was for many of our citizens in the not too distant past. And that is what “Back of the Bus” helps to achieve in telling the Rosa Parks event through the eyes of a fictional black child and his mother seated on the bus that day.

Aaron Reynolds fills his book with small events to portray the small boy as just a child riding the bus with his mom as an everyday event in his life; a day just like any other except it turned out to be a defining moment in history he chances upon. He takes out his bright, shiny marble, a tiger’s eye, and rolls it. As the bus slows, it follows the law of gravity away from him and rolls right into the hand of Rosa Parks who rolls it back with a grin. More passengers get on.

Then it happens. Mr. Blake, the driver growls out, “Y’all gotta move, now.” Some people do get up and move, but the bus is at a dead standstill. Somebody is speaking up. But the words of the bus driver carry to the back of the bus, “I’m gonna call the police, now.”

Whispers fill the halted bus and the boy can see from his perch at the back of the bus that the speaker was Rosa Parks.

 

She doesn’t belong up front like that,

and them folks know it.

But she’s sittin’ right there,

her eyes all fierce like a lightnin’ storm,

like maybe she does belong up there.

And I start thinkin’ maybe she does too.

 

Words may be instructive as we parents know, but I still think example is the strongest teacher. And in Ms. Parks her subsequent arrest and fine because of the violation of Montgomery’s city code was a watershed event.

The boy’s mother placates him with the words, “Tomorrow all this’ll be forgot.” Though his mother says the words, he too takes note of the new “lightning” storm” in her eyes. And instead of feeling afraid, he feels a new strength.

Taking out his tiger’s eye marble from the tightly closed fist, instead he holds it up to the light with a new pride. I love the illustrations that seem a bit out of focus and muted until Rosa Parks takes her stand. The defining lines and shapes seem dim with everything hazy and unclear, including the people on the bus. Mr. Cooper’s artistic technique changes with Ms. Parks’ refusal. Images are sharp and clear. People, including the young boy’s mother are drawn with clear and delineated thoughtful feelings of emotion at what has happened. Art and narrative blend beautifully to display the change that is afoot. 

Where does Martin Luther King’s life intersect with Rosa Parks? Following this event, the Mt. Zion Church of Montgomery spurs the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, lead by Martin Luther King. Their initial goal is to effect change starting with the very segregation bus code effecting Ms. Parks. The MIA organizes a very successful boycott of the buses for 382 days with some 40,000 black riders cobbling together alternate means of transportation to get to work. They included walking, carpooling, riding in African-American operated cabs. Martin Luther King’s home was attacked in the ensuing violence the boycott began.

Rosa Parks single act of defiance with the words, “I don’t think I should have to stand up,” was the catalyst for change. Books and the ideas they foster have done the same thing for people with each turn of the page. And for your young readers, “Back of the Bus” may not only provide a look back in history at a single and seminal act of defiance that changed an unjust law, but a model for a way to stand up for something they believe in when the still, small voice in each of us tells us to do so.

   

    

 

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11. Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White | Book Review

Charlotte’s Web is is one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. It is about a barnyard pig named Wilbur that can talk, a barn spider named Charlotte that can write, and a young girl named Fern that stands up for her beliefs.

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12. Fog everywhere: an extract from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.

The post Fog everywhere: an extract from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House appeared first on OUPblog.

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13. Classic MG discussion: Mary Poppins

Welcome to our Mary Poppins chat–the final classics discussion for the year! At the end of the post, you’ll find info on how to tally up your reviews if you participated in 2015, as well as what we think we’ll be doing going forward. Wendy: I’ve literally seen the movie Mary Poppins over a hundred times. (What can I say, as a child, when I loved things, I loved them intensely.) I can’t remember how far into those viewings that I decided to read the books, but I was surprised to find how much I loved them–just as a much, but in a very different way.  Layla: While I’ve definitely seen this movie several times, I don’t think I’ve ever read this book! So thanks for finally bringing this one to the front of my queue, Wendy. It was really different from what I was expecting, I’ve got to say –... Read more »

The post Classic MG discussion: Mary Poppins appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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14. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Mark Twain. 1889. 258 pages. [Source: Bought]

It was in Warwick Castle that I came across the curious stranger whom I am going to talk about. He attracted me by three things: his candid simplicity, his marvelous familiarity with ancient armor, and the restfulness of his company—for he did all the talking.

Did I enjoy reading Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court? Yes!!!! Very, very much!

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is a story within a story. The narrator meets a talkative stranger, the stranger begins to relate a strange-but-true story--so we're told--and finally, the stranger hands the narrator an old manuscript to finish the tale. Most of the book except for the beginning and ending frames, IS the manuscript written by the talkative stranger.

Here is how that manuscript begins:
I am an American. I was born and reared in Hartford, in the State of Connecticut--anyway, just over the river, in the country. So I am a Yankee of the Yankees--and practical; yes, and nearly barren of sentiment, I suppose--or poetry, in other words.
Readers learn that this Yankee was mysteriously transported BACK in time to the days of King Arthur's Court. This manuscript is his story of those events: the people he met, the dangers he faced, the near-misses and close-calls of his adventures, the friendships he formed, and the nearly successful, progressive experiments he conducted. For this time-traveler, THE BOSS, as he came to be called, had lofty goals once he realized where he was and the unique opportunity he had to shape or reshape society. These goals, for example, included introducing technology and establishing education for all.

The book is quite entertaining and at times very amusing!!! There is some action to be sure, but, it is a comedy through and through.

Some of my favorite quotes:
The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but when you come to realize your fact, it takes on color.
The only right way to classify the majestic ages of some of those jokes was by geologic periods. But that neat idea hit the boy in a blank place, for geology hadn't been invented yet. However, I made a note of the remark, and calculated to educate the commonwealth up to it if I pulled through. It is no use to throw a good thing away merely because the market isn't ripe yet.
Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe and examine. I had mine, the king and his people had theirs. In both cases they flowed in ruts worn deep by time and habit, and the man who should have proposed to divert them by reason and argument would have had a long contract on his hands. 
Spiritual wants and instincts are as various in the human family as are physical appetites, complexions, and features, and a man is only at his best, morally, when he is equipped with the religious garment whose color and shape and size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexion, angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it. 
There never was such a country for wandering liars; and they were of both sexes. Hardly a month went by without one of these tramps arriving; and generally loaded with a tale about some princess or other wanting help to get her out of some far-away castle where she was held in captivity by a lawless scoundrel, usually a giant. Now you would think that the first thing the king would do after listening to such a novelette from an entire stranger, would be to ask for credentials—yes, and a pointer or two as to locality of castle, best route to it, and so on. But nobody ever thought of so simple and common-sense a thing at that. No, everybody swallowed these people's lies whole, and never asked a question of any sort or about anything. Well, one day when I was not around, one of these people came along—it was a she one, this time—and told a tale of the usual pattern. Her mistress was a captive in a vast and gloomy castle, along with forty-four other young and beautiful girls, pretty much all of them princesses; they had been languishing in that cruel captivity for twenty-six years; the masters of the castle were three stupendous brothers, each with four arms and one eye—the eye in the center of the forehead, and as big as a fruit. 
Would you believe it? The king and the whole Round Table were in raptures over this preposterous opportunity for adventure. Every knight of the Table jumped for the chance, and begged for it; but to their vexation and chagrin the king conferred it upon me, who had not asked for it at all.
Indeed, I said I was glad. And in a way it was true; I was as glad as a person is when he is scalped.
There, there, never mind, don't explain, I hate explanations; they fog a thing up so that you can't tell anything about it.
But that is the way we are made: we don't reason, where we feel; we just feel.
Take a jackass, for instance: a jackass has that kind of strength, and puts it to a useful purpose, and is valuable to this world because he is a jackass; but a nobleman is not valuable because he is a jackass. It is a mixture that is always ineffectual, and should never have been attempted in the first place. 
You can't reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns.
Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising. 
They are common defects of my own, and one mustn't criticise other people on grounds where he can't stand perpendicular himself. 
Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe.
Clarence was with me as concerned the revolution, but in a modified way. His idea was a republic, without privileged orders, but with a hereditary royal family at the head of it instead of an elective chief magistrate. He believed that no nation that had ever known the joy of worshiping a royal family could ever be robbed of it and not fade away and die of melancholy. I urged that kings were dangerous. He said, then have cats. He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive; finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house, and "Tom VII, or Tom XI, or Tom XIV by the grace of God King," would sound as well as it would when applied to the ordinary royal tomcat with tights on. "And as a rule," said he, in his neat modern English, "the character of these cats would be considerably above the character of the average king, and this would be an immense moral advantage to the nation, for the reason that a nation always models its morals after its monarch's. The worship of royalty being founded in unreason, these graceful and harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royalties, and indeed more so, because it would presently be noticed that they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted no cruelties or injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of a deeper love and reverence than the customary human king, and would certainly get it. The eyes of the whole harried world would soon be fixed upon this humane and gentle system, and royal butchers would presently begin to disappear; their subjects would fill the vacancies with catlings from our own royal house; we should become a factory; we should supply the thrones of the world; within forty years all Europe would be governed by cats, and we should furnish the cats. The reign of universal peace would begin then, to end no more forever.... Me-e-e-yow-ow-ow-ow—fzt!—wow!" Hang him, I supposed he was in earnest, and was beginning to be persuaded by him, until he exploded that cat-howl and startled me almost out of my clothes. But he never could be in earnest. He didn't know what it was. He had pictured a distinct and perfectly rational and feasible improvement upon constitutional monarchy, but he was too feather-headed to know it, or care anything about it, either.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. ‘Your fame will be sung all round the world': Martial on the convenience of libraries

"Your library of a gracious country villa, from where the reader can see the city close by: might you squeeze in my naughty Muse, between your more respectable poems?" Martial’s avid fans will find themselves on familiar ground here, at the suburban ranch of the poet’s aspirational namesake, Julius Martial (4.64).

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16. ‘If you have no better offer, do come’: Martial’s guide to Roman dinner parties

"If you have no better offer, do come," 11.52 helps put flesh on the bones of Martial’s Rome (‘you know Stephanus’ baths are right next door…’) and presents the city poet in a neighbourly light. It’s also a favourite of modern foodies in search of an unpretentious sample menu from ancient daily life.

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17. The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by David Roberts. 1907/1983. Simon & Schuster. 244 pages. [Source: Library]
I loved, loved, loved rereading The Wind in the Willows. I wasn't exactly planning on rereading it this year. I wasn't. But. I was looking for a good audio book to check out from the library. I saw Wind in the Willows on the shelf; I checked it out. I listened to it. That could have been the end of it. But, of course, it wasn't. I had to read it too. I just had to. I could no more resist rereading the book than Toad could resist driving an automobile.

What do I love about the book? Well, many things. I love the characters. I love, love, love the relationships between the characters. And the adventures!!! Plenty happens in this one! Does Toad deserve all that he gets? Maybe, maybe not. But Toad is, without a doubt, unforgettable!!!

The edition I read had illustrations from Ernest H. Shepard. The illustrations were great: some were in color, others were in black and white. They made a great book seem even greater.

Would I be hosting the Edwardian Reading Challenge if it wasn't for me "having" to read The Wind in the Willows right NOW? I'm not sure. But I'm so glad I followed my heart!!!

My favorite quote:
"What are we to do with him?" asked the Mole of the Water Rat.
"Nothing at all," replied the Rat firmly. "Because there is really nothing to be done. You see, I know him from old. He is now possessed. He has got a new craze, and it always takes him that way, in its first stage. He'll continue like that for days now, like an animal walking in a happy dream, quite useless for all practical purposes. Never mind him."

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Classic YA Discussion: Alanna, The First Adventure

Welcome to our discussion for Alanna: the First Adventure! Today we have a special guest joining us, the wonderful Aussie scifi/fantasy author Andrea K. Höst, author of the Touchstone trilogy and a Midnight Garden favorite, And All the Stars. Our backgrounds: Wendy has never read this before, but both Layla and Andrea have. This series seems beloved by most fantasy fans, so it seemed like a great selection for our classics series. *As always, please be aware there will be spoilers if you haven’t read this book yet. Wendy: Thanks for joining our chat today, Andrea! Andrea: Glad to be here!  And it’s a great excuse to refresh my memory: I read the Alanna series a long time ago – long enough that I’ve forgotten most of it (except some vague memories of not going swimming).  It’s a book on the younger end (main character goes from eleven to thirteen).... Read more »

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19. Distinctive dress: Martial’s index to life in a crammed metropolis

His books are famous around the world, but their author struggles to get by – two themes that quickly become familiar to any reader. Martial has an eye for fabric. He habitually ranks himself and judges others by the price and quality of their clothing and accessories (e.g. 2.29, 2.57), a quick index in the face-to-face street life of the crammed metropolis.

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20. ‘Tomorrow I’ll start living': Martial on priorities

‘Dear Martial’ – what a strange coincidence that Martial’s soul-mate, who leads the life he himself dreams of living, is called ‘Julius Martial’. In our selection we meet him first at 1.107, playfully teasing the poet that he ought to write “something big; you’re such a slacker”; at the start of book 3, JMa’s is ‘a name that’s constantly on my lips’ (3.5), and the welcome at his lovely suburban villa on the Janiculan Hill 4.64 is so warm, ‘you will think the place is yours’.

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21. Let the Hurricane Roar (1932)

Let the Hurricane Roar. Rose Wilder Lane. 1932. 118 pages. [Source: Borrowed]

After reading Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder earlier this year, I was curious to read Rose Wilder Lane's Let the Hurricane Roar. If memory serves me, Rose Wilder Lane borrowed freely from her mother in terms of character and plot. That is while she was reading and editing and preparing her mother's manuscript to be sent off for possible publication, she was beginning to write her own pioneer-inspired novels, one of which is Let the Hurricane Roar. It has been a good six months or so since I read Pioneer Girl, so I don't remember the details clearly. This mother-and-daughter team were definitely writing at the same time about the same things, though I suppose for different audiences. Little House in the Big Woods was published in 1932, I believe, and Let the Hurricane Roar was published in 1933.

Let The Hurricane Roar is a historical fiction with a touch of romance. One could possibly say that it "celebrates" the pioneer spirit, but, it doesn't so much celebrate it and honor it as it does present it realistically. Life was hard, tough, at times seeming bleak and hopeless. The only thing abounding was often pride, stubbornness, gumption, if you will, and diligence. In short supply? Money and neighbors and life's luxuries.

Molly and David are the main characters of the novel. These two head out west, and it isn't long before Molly finds herself with child. Fearing to leave their new claim unsettled, she becomes enthusiastic about going with him to the claim and having the child all by herself. Who needs neighbors, friends, family, a midwife or a doctor? Molly proves to be just as proud and stubborn and spirited as her husband. (David DOES play the fiddle. And the two do endure several blizzards.)

To sum it all up, the book is more an account of horrible things happening to them within the first two or three years of settling their claim than anything else. That's not to say that the book lacks characterization. But it does lack characters, in some ways, since Molly and David are essentially on their own. Swedish neighbors, I believe, appear midway through and then depart again. And Molly does visit the nearest town in one or two chapters. But essentially it's just the three of them! (The baby doesn't do much if I'm honest.)

I liked it okay. It wasn't a great book that I simply loved and delighted in. But it was a solidly good read for anyone interested in pioneers.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Eight Cousins (1874)

Eight Cousins. Louisa May Alcott. 1874. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

Rose sat all alone in the big best parlor, with her little handkerchief laid ready to catch the first tear, for she was thinking of her troubles, and a shower was expected.

If only I'd first met Louisa May Alcott through Eight Cousins instead of Little Women! It might not have taken me decades to read a second book by Louisa May Alcott. My first book by Louisa May Alcott was, of course, Little Women. It's not that I found it awful--just awfully sad. Eight Cousins, on the other hand, was a delight from cover to cover.

The heroine, Rose Campbell, is an orphan. She has plenty of aunts--or perhaps I should say great aunts--around in addition to seven boy cousins. Her official guardian is Uncle (Doctor) Alec. His aunts aren't pleased with the arrangement, thinking that one of them--any of them really--could do a "better" job of raising George and Rose's daughter. He offers a compromise of sorts. Let him alone and let him be sole guardian with the final say on everything concerning Rose for a full year, and then at the end of the year have a conference to determine if he did a good enough job to remain her guardian for keeps. The book chronicles Rose's first year.

Readers will see Rose adapt to her new life; make friends with Phebe, the maid servant; make friends with all seven of her cousins; come to accept all her fussy and fidgety aunts; have plenty of adventures in all four seasons of the year; grow academically under the teaching of her uncle; learn practical skills from her aunts--sewing, cooking, cleaning, etc.

Rose is a good, sweet, intelligent young girl. And she was a joy to spend time with. She does act "as a magnet" for her cousins, they're drawn to her and want to spend time with her; her aunts and uncle hope she'll use her magnetism for good--to improve the morals of her cousins. Is the book preachy? Yes and no. I mean I don't think it is especially preachy when compared to children's books written in the Victorian period. Compared to children's books written today perhaps, it is somewhat preachy. I did notice that when the book turned preachy most often it was through dialogue; let's just say that Rose has opinionated aunts! Though not always. Here's a good example:
Fathers and mothers are too absorbed in business and housekeeping to study their children, and cherish that sweet and natural confidence which is a child's surest safeguard, and a parent's subtlest power. So the young hearts hide trouble or temptation till the harm is done, and mutual regret comes too late. Happy the boys and girls who tell all things freely to father or mother, sure of pity, help, and pardon; and thrice happy the parents who, out of their own experience, and by their own virtues, can teach and uplift the souls for which they are responsible.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. ‘I get more of a kick out of your bad temper than your good looks': Martial’s guide to getting boys

Martial adores sexy boys. He craves their kisses, all the more so if they play hard to get, " buffed amber, a fire yellow-green with Eastern incense… That, Diadumenus, is how your kisses smell, you cruel boy. What if you gave me all of them, without holding back?" (3.65) and "I only want struggling kisses – kisses I’ve seized; I get more of a kick out of your bad temper than your good looks…" (5.46).

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24. Goblin Market and Other Poems

Goblin Market and Other Poems. Christina Rossetti. 1862. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]

Poetry is not something I review frequently at Becky's Book Reviews. I tend to have a love-hate relationship with the genre. Either I love, love, love a particular poet, or, I don't. Typically, it isn't so much "hate" as indifference or even confusion. But now and then I "discover" a poet that makes me really love sitting down with a book of poetry. One of my happy discoveries of the year is Christina Rossetti. Technically I was familiar with her poem "Goblin Market" having studied it in school way back when. But since I haven't read another poem by Rossetti until this year, I'm counting her as a NEW discovery.

This poetry collection was first published in 1862. It begins with "Goblin Market." And I do have to say that if you just read one poem this year, it should be Goblin Market, in my opinion!!! It is about two sisters, Laura and Lizzie. And, of course, it features goblins selling forbidden fruit and other goodies. One sister is tempted beyond what she can stand, and, well, you should read it for yourself!

The collection includes other poems as well. Some short. Some long. Some darker than others perhaps. But not all the poems are dreary and melancholy. All feel authentically human, and capture something of the human experience. Rossetti also wrote devotional poems, but, the poems in this collection are different. Almost like the poems capture not what we should feel or ought to feel or what we want to feel, but, instead how we do feel--for better or worse.


Some poems focus on the seasons, on nature, on the natural way of things--including life, death, change, renewal. Some poems focus on love and relationships. Not all poems end happily ever after, in fact, many don't. But there is something beautiful about the poems even when they are about broken relationships.

Poems I'd recommend:

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. ‘A girl who made the peacock look ugly, the squirrel unloveable': Martial mourns a lost love

I begin with one of Martial’s more troublesome twentieth-century Avid Fans: the poet, editor, translator, and Fascist propagandist, Ezra Pound.

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