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Tag Archives: Wind in the Willows

An Open Letter to Meghan Cox Gurdon

Dear Ms. Gurdon,

Every Saturday I cruise down to the local market to get the weekend Wall Street Journal. It is one of my weekly pleasures to come home from church Sunday morning, enjoy a nice brunch and open the pages of a good newspaper. In particular I enjoy the Review section, mainly for the books. I have to say I’m surprised, but extremely happy, that you have a regular column on children’s books in the Wall Street Journal. After reading reviews of books about the history of mahogany and a travelogue based on the origins of noodles (really, WSJ?) your weekly exploration of children’s and young adult books is a welcome oasis.

Last week I received the July/August issue of Imprimis (a bit late) and was pleased to see your picture and byline on the front. Your topic, “The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books,” was immediately appealing, with the added bonus of referring me to an article you wrote for WSJ in 2011 titled “Darkness Too Visible.” I knew that the young adult category was growing increasingly dark, but I was thinking of all the titles with vampires and zombies and such. I didn’t realize you were writing about human monsters. They’re even worse.

What I don’t understand is how books with such things as abductions, rape, self-mutilation, parental molestation, and oral sex can be labeled as “young adult.” Even less understandable is how writers, librarians and others see your reasoned and intelligent critiques as a threat to freedom of expression. Encouraging taste and discrimination in choosing and producing juvenile literature is a bad thing? Who knew?

While we’re on the subject of darkness in today’s books, have you seen the novels your colleague, Sam Sacks, has been reviewing in his “Fiction Chronicle” column? Granted that these are for adults, but the books he reviews contain debilitating grief, depression, misery, addiction, isolation, loneliness, breakdowns and family tensions. His words. From this weekend’s column. I can’t wait to walk past those books at Border’s. Does Mr. Sacks actively seek these novels? Are they sent to him? Does he see his therapist once or twice a week?

But wait, there’s more! Forget the books. There’s another kind of darkness lurking around the Review pages, the kind that sneaks into people’s subconscious, burrows in and sends roots all through their world view. In the “Mind & Matter” column, written by Robert Sapolsky and Alison Gopnik, human life is observed through the lens of materialist science. Biology, neurology, anthropology, psychology, chemistry and, of course, evolution, pretty much explain all our behaviors. Which basically means we are merely meat machines marching to orders we have no control over. Puts a smile on my face.

OK. I know. This wasn’t much of a letter. More of a rant, actually. But I really did mean what I said about your “Children’s Books” column. And your piece in Imprimis gives me hope that there are people still fighting to let some light into this ever darkening world. Keep up the good fight, Ms. Gurdon, and know there are lots of us out here cheering you on.

I’ll do what I can in my small corner, too.

All the Best,

Rob

P.S. –  Could you slip Mr. Sacks a copy of “The Wind in the Willows” or “The Hobbit” maybe? Thanks.

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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Children's Books, Ideas

 

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Do You Read “Young?”

Pan depicted on the cover of The Wind in the W...

Pan depicted on the cover of The Wind in the Willows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several weeks back I read an article in the Reading Matters section of one of my favorite websites, MercatorNet. Titled “Books of Innocence and Experience,” it was about how more adults these days seem to be reading books intended for the young adult market, books like the “Harry Potter” series, or “Hunger Games.” I would go so far as to say that some adults are even reading what might be classified as children’s books. I know that within the past year I’ve read both. From “The Wind in the Willows” to “The Hobbit” to “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” I find these “young” books to be more engaging, interesting and with more intriguing ideas than a large number of so-called “adult contemporary” fiction.

The author of the article, Clare Cannon, points out that “contemporary adults’ novels offer weird and wonderful stories that try to make up for a lack of hope and ideals with bizarre twists and extreme experiences, or with the smashing of taboos and guilt which they blame for killing the happiness that their ‘liberal’ experiences should have given them.

“That is why so much of it is just plain depressing, even if many people find it addictive.”

I found evidence of this in last weekend’s book review section of the Wall Street Journal, which reviewed two new novels which “ponder the courtship habits of neurotic millenials in Brooklyn and Silicon Valley.” No thrill going up my leg over those. According to Ms Cannon there are many books on the market today that are “just plain depressing.”

So why are people reading these kinds of books? If anyone out there has any ideas, I’d love to hear them. Personally, I have no clue. But if they’re leading more people to read young adult and children’s books, maybe they’re serving a purpose after all.
 
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Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Children's Books, Ideas, Worries

 

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Not Just For Dwarves

The Badger simply beamed on him. “That’s exactly what I say,” he replied. “There’s

English: Hardwick House Toad Hall? The author ...

English: Hardwick House Toad Hall? The author of Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame died at nearby Pangbourne in 1932, and would have known this section of river whilst writing his most famous book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

no security, or peace and tranquility, except underground. And then, if your ideas get larger and you want to expand – why, a dig and a scrape, and there you are! If you feel your house is a bit too big, you stop up a hole or two, and there you are again! No builders, no tradesmen, no remarks passed on you by fellows looking over your wall, and, above all, no weather. Look at Rat, now. A couple of feet of floodwater, and he’s got to move into hired lodgings; uncomfortable, inconveniently situated, and horribly expensive. Take Toad. I say nothing against Toad Hall; quite the best house in these parts, as a house. But supposing a fire breaks out – where’s Toad? Supposing tiles are blown off, or walls sink or crack, or windows get broken –  where’s Toad? Supposing the rooms are drafty –  I hate a draft myself – where’s Toad? No, up and out of doors is good enough to roam about and get one’s living in; but underground to come back to at last – that’s my idea of home!”

 

Kenneth Grahame, from “The Wind in the Willows”

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2012 in Quotations

 

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Score at the Thrift Store

Score at the Thrift Store

So by now, most of you know that I LOVE to shop for books at thrift and second-hand stores. One of the main reasons is because I just never know what I’m going to find. The element of surprise makes each trip an adventure and when I come across that special book or books, well . . .

Yesterday my wife and I went to the D.A.V. (Disabled American Veterans) Thrift in Prescott. This is one fabulous shop, with all sorts of nifty nic-nacs, old clothes, furniture and, of course, books. And I scored! I found some of the old “Companion Library” series of children’s classics published by Grosset & Dunlap back in the ’60s. What was wonderful about these volumes wasn’t just that they made available some of the all-time best stories for young people, but also the way they did it.

There were two tales per volume, but also two front covers. If you were looking at one cover and you wanted to see the second, instead of just turning it over, you would flip it upside down and THEN turn it over. Hard to explain with words, but if you saw one you’d understand. And these were the full versions of each story, not some abridged one.

So here’s what I snagged: The first volume has Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (it says “Revised and Slightly Abridged”. Oooops!) which was first published in 1727. along with Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The second volume has The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame sharing the covers with Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Finally, the third volume has The Adventures of Pinocchio by C. Collodi (in reality, Carlo Lorenzini, NOT Walt Disney) followed on the reverse side by the Howard Pyle version of The Story of King Arthur and His Knights.

There were several more of these wonderful books on the shelf when I left, but I didn’t want to be greedy. But if they’re still there next time, consider them gone. I’m going to build a nice library for my grandson and these books are a great way to do it!

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2012 in Book Hunting, Children's Books, Old Books

 

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