{emotional stitches}

As I alluded to in my last entry, recent weeks have been un peu roof. Coming down from the high of an August move and a September promotion, I dove headfirst into October moodiness and November homesickness in much the same manner as my father once dove headfirst into a concrete wading pool and came out with a forehead full of stitches. Oh, California: You seduced me early on with your promises of glistening beaches, eternal sunshine, and seasonal fluidity (and gainful employment). How was I to know that SAD apparently also applies in reverse? Is there the opposite of a sun lamp on the market? Preferably, a device emitting a constant light mist and scattered raindrops, accompanied by damp orange leaves and a brisk autumn chill? Luckily, the combination of a week’s vacay in my hometown and The Heroine’s Bookshelf were just the emotional stitches I needed.

In THB, Erin Blakemore explores the literary heroines that she (and I) grew up with and their continued relevance to adult life. Each chapter is dedicated to a single heroine and a trait that she most embodies—Jane Eyre is “Steadfastness,” Scout Finch is “Compassion,” etc., etc. For me, the 12 chapters ranged from books I have literally memorized (Gone With the WindLittle Women) to one-time acquaintances (A Tree Grows in BrooklynThe Color Purple), with only one that I have never read (Colette’s Claudine at School). Each chapter contained biographical authoress information, a summary of the literary heroine’s journey and eponymous trait, and usually a personal anecdote from Blakemore herself.

While I see how some may find this type of thing a bit nauseating, I value this book for several reasons. Blakemore did an excellent job of channeling the nerdy little girl who read books during birthday parties and sleepovers, and who grew up to be the awkward young woman who overanalyzes everything and writes in a slightly cheeky, but more treacly, prose. As I say repeatedly, I was never a “real” English major, drawn in by theory and rhetoric; my favorite and most reread books continue to be exactly the ones that Blakemore uses.

They accompanied me to my first kiss and my first breakup, through college and into the weird uncharted territory of quarterlife crisis and grown womanhood. . . This wasn’t so much about becoming a cliché or a walking ad for libraries as it was about getting through my life. And it still is . . .

The one minor hiccup was that each of these author’s biographies is as rife with divorce, addiction, and chronic disease as any Housewife franchise, Real or Desperate. Sure, these women wrote the canons of heroine literary that would inspire generations to come, but their real lives were much more failure than success, a fact that I find moderately depressing. Still, they are facts—you can’t blame the biographer.

As luck would have it, the combination of THB and a visit home did more than provide emotional stitches—it’s the perfect timing for me to pack up and haul out my own heroine’s bookshelf.

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{so… yeah.}

In the past two weeks, I celebrated Christmas, moved 10 hours away, and started my first job since last summer. So… the blog took a back seat. As did reading time. (Damn you, OMF! Still not done…)

But I’m back! And on a Friday, nonetheless. Which means…

I realized about a week too late that my last post was kind of a lie. I mean, yes, Ernest and Celestine are my faves. But they are not my only fave childhood books. Not even my only fave childhood Christmas book.

The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Helen Berger is one of the first books I remember hearing outloud, which makes it extra special to me. In this Christmas story, the tale of Mary and Joseph trying to find a safe place to have their baby is told from the point of view of their donkey. He doesn’t know where they are going or why: To him, they are simply “the man,” “the lady,” and, finally, “a tiny baby.” As he wearily trudges from town to town, inn to inn, he dreams he carries… A city. A ship. A fountain. A rose. A “lady full of heaven.” At last, he is able to rest, seeing the reflection of a star high above him as he drinks from the trough. At the end, the woman invites the donkey to come see the miracle he has helped to bring about.

“Come—see what we have carried all this way, you and I.”

Breathtakingly beautiful illustrations accompany this sweet and simple story.

As much as I got caught up just now in remembering this book, I do admit that I am a little behind the times. But even though it’s no longer the Christmas season, I still absolutely love Barbara Helen Berger.

 

Since my name means “pearl,” one of my parents’ first gifts to me was about Grandfather Twilight, who every evening takes a single pearl from his strand, walks through the forest with it as it grows larger and larger in his hand, and finally releases it over the ocean as the moon.

 

 

For me, When the Sun Rose is much more about the illustrations than the story. It’s simple enough—a girl is visited by her best friend, and they spend the day together. But the pictures—whew. Go get a copy yourself. I can’t possible begin to do them justice.

 

 

All of the above books are picture books, even though obviously I still love them as an (almost) adult. Gwinna is a true chapter book, but still has the wonderful pictures that characterize all of Berger’s books. When Gwinna’s mother discovers that her baby is growing wings, she is terrified that they will make her leave her family, and binds them tightly to her daughter’s back to keep her safe. When Gwinna discovers the power of her wings, she does leave—and the fairy tale begins.

As with Ernest and Celestine on my last post, it is seriously so hard for me to write about these books, because they really have been such huge parts of my childhood and continue to be so important in my life. All I can say is that you will not regret reading these, no matter how old you are.

{a very mouse and bear christmas}

My very favorite holiday book is, sadly, out of print.

The Ernest and Celestine books by Gabrielle Vincent are, quite frankly, the cutest books I’ve ever read. I will forever thank my mom for somehow tracking down Ernest and Celestine, Ernest and Celestine’s Picnic, and Merry Christmas, Ernest and Celestine when I was an infant, since they seem almost impossible to come by nowadays.

Ernest is a bear and Celestine is a mouse. Are they father and daughter? Just friends? Why are all the “adults” bears and all the “children” mice? Are they really adults and children? These questions are irrelevant. In all the books, the story text is entirely dialogue, with the detailed and engaging illustrations providing the rest.

Merry Christmas, Ernest and Celestine finds my favorite animals at the brink of economic crisis. How can they afford to make a nice Christmas for themselves and their friends?

In fact, they don’t need money—all they need is the simple belief that good acts will inspire love and enjoyment, a true Christmas lesson. They take a tree from the woods, decorate their house with paper chains and ornaments, and draw pictures as present for their little mice guests. Everyone has a great time!

Alright, let’s take a beat. After rereading this post, I realize that my summary reads a little snarkily. I really don’t mean it that way! I just don’t encounter such genuinely sweet books often enough to be able to justifiably write about them.

In all honesty, if you can get your hands on a copy of an Ernest and Celestine book, buy it immediately for the most special little person in your life. Or yourself. I promise you won’t regret it.

{i want cake}

Well, it’s been a good week of physical therapy and doctor’s appointments. I just got back from 4 hours at the orthopedics center, during which I found out that my immediate quad atrophy after tearing my ACL almost 4 months ago was totally normal, improved my mobility by 12 degrees, and got my sutures removed! BFD. Amiright?

Now I’m off for a weekend at my gramma’s sans internet while the rents take my little brother back to college. I don’t have to go (yay! last time I went was 3 months after grad and everyone thought I was a matriculating freshman, which was depressing on at least 2 separate levels), but for my mother, still on crutches equals can’t take care of self. She’s probably right.

So while I’m gone for the next few days (and reading Ellen Foster, which I started today in the waiting room and is pretty dang good so far), throw a party for all these amazing kids’ books’ birthdays!

{felix has a friend}

One semester in college, which is now mainly memorable for its academic, social, and meteorological bleakness, I started doodling in the margins of my notebook during a particularly scintillating 400-level afternoon French class. These doodles transmitted themselves into random paragraphs on the library computer during work, and they eventually became a half-formed idea for a story about a small boy named Felix. Felix wears rectangular black glasses (essentially, hipster glasses before I knew what hipster glasses were or how awesome they are) and lives with his parents in a large, old hotel. He doesn’t have any friends his age, but instead hangs out with all the old people and the staff at the hotel. Essentially, Eloise for older kids. Or Harriet the Spy for less neurotic kids.

Oh, hello, Ottoline. Or rather, hello, Chris Riddell. You had the same idea, only better. And you actually did it, which also makes it better. Kudos to you.

I discovered the Ottoline books while purchasing my mom a birthday card back in July. My favorite card at the store (the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, btdubs) was a bright red one with a cute little sketch of a girl on it (also some shiny swirls and “Happy Birthday”). Neither my mom nor I had any idea who the girl was, but by the time I came home from Denver a month later, my mother had purchased Ottoline Goes to School and Ottoline and the Yellow Cat (there’s also Ottoline at Sea).

Ottoline’s parents are famous collectors, and as such, are always off travelling the globe, leaving Ottoline in their apartment in the Pepperpot Building with Mr. Munroe, her caretaker. Ottoline’s parents rescued Mr. Munroe from a bog in Norway shortly before Ottoline was born; he looks rather like Cousin Itt with furry feet, and doesn’t speak. The two of them have a very close bond, and gallivant around the Pepperpot Building/the Big City/other areas of the world solving mysteries. The books are complete with very amusingly detailed and labelled drawings, which, if you recall the birthday card story, is what attracted me in the first place.

I’m always surprised when I come across children’s authors I really like, namely because, while I love children’s books, the ones I love and keep reading are the same ones I read when I was little, and I’m of the rather crotchety opinion that current authors aren’t as good as the classics. The Ottoline books were one of those pleasant surprises that renew my faith in children’s publishing.

NEWS: I know I am only three posts in. But. I think it is necessary that I call a hiatus on this blog for a while. In my constant post-surgery adventure of battling pain and nausea, this post on Ottoline took me two days to write, and I couldn’t even post on Edgar Sawtelle. I have such grand ideas for my next post, and I do not want to even attempt it until I’m sure I can do it in one sitting. I’m sorry! I will return as soon as I can.