Summer Stories – Trixie Belden

It’s summertiimageme! It crept in more slowly for some than for others – school children were released in staggered succession from mid May to late June – but now it is completely official.  It is summer.  I realized a couple of years ago that as seasons turn, I instinctively turn towards different books. About two years ago, right as our homeschool year was drawing to it’s academic close, and summer was beginning, I ordered the complete set of Trixie Belden mysteries off of ebay.  I have no idea why this heroine came back so strongly in my mind, I hadn’t read her since I was a child, but her summer adventures of riding her bike, riding horses with her best friend Honey Wheeler (who is a millionaire, natch), swimming in the lake, and solving mysteries on the side, came back to me in vivid, idealized childhood  technicolor.  It was ideal. Trixie had the ideal summer, set in the Hudson River Valley of New York in the late 1940’s.  If you haven’t heard  of Trixie Belden, she’s a girl detective.  She’s a lot less famous than her contemporary Nancy Drew (who is enjoyed in heavy rotation in this house) and unlike Nancy, she’s a spunky, imperfect thirteen year-old,  a middle child sandwiched between two older brothers, and one younger brother.  She lives on a farm – Crabapple Farm! and helps her mom, who she calls “Moms’, in the garden and is sometimes stuck watching her little brother Bobby.  In her first adventure, a new girl moves into the mansion up the hill, a shy, retiring girl named Honey Wheeler, who becomes Trixie’s best friend and fellow sleuth.

For me, a great detective story, whether it is for adults or children, is best set against a wholesome, sanguine backdrop. This pastoral setting makes the mystery more mysterious, more incongruous, and therefore more insidious. Trixie’s summer and life are full of swimming, riding, gardening, jokes with her brothers, cut off shorts and then changing into a dress for dinner at Honey’s house.  So, when a light is left on in the old gatehouse, or some strange tire tracks are found in the quiet woods where Trixie and Honey go riding, you know something is definitely up!

A few summers ago, I put away our homeschool materials, made a tomato and cucumber salad, baked a chocolate cake and put it in the refrigerator, brewed strong coffee to keep cold, and ordered a complete set of Trixie Belden mysteries.  It was summertime.

An Illustrated Pride and Prejudice

Yesterday I was at our lIMG_9432ocal children’s bookstore picking up a book for my kids (the third in a series we love) when my eyes fastened on a bright, beautiful, bold cover. And on this cover, were words that are near and to dear to my heart and have been to many a reader for more than 200 years: Pride and Prejudice.

I ran over and picked it up and didn’t put it down again. Beautifully illustrated by Alice Pattullo, this edition also has all the letters that the characters write in the story, artfully written out, even Darcy’s super long letter where he reassures Lizzy that he isn’t renewing the addresses which were so disgusting to her. Beautiful colors, glorious scenes, and charming patterns adorn the pages.

My girls and I squealed, and then I ran towards the counter, clutching my prize. I know this tome will have a place on our family bookshelves for many years to come. And best of all, last night I found my daughter Lucy curled up on my bed, reading it! She had to pause now and then to ask what words like “caprice” and “scrupulous” meant, but she was chuckling out loud over some of Mrs. Bennet’s antics.

With it’s beautiful illustrations and playful visual style, this edition of Pride and Prejudice would be ideal to introduce young readers to the world of Jane Austen. Glorious!

Miss Rumphius – an Inaugural Post

Hi! Here I am! Starting to blog just moCaputo.missrumphius.image-5nths after setting up this page! Hopefully this slow start and the obvious commitment issues it suggests aren’t indicative of how it’ll be moving forward. So, I’ve been wanting to write about children’s books, and the question was, where to start? There are so many I love and so many I could begin with…which one had all the elements that make me love a good children’s book so much?  A few different books came to mind immediately and before long, one stood out from among the rest.  Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney, was my inaugural choice.
I first discovered Miss Rumphius in a really odd way. I was in high school, and I went along with a friend of mine on a babysitting job. To be clear, it was her job. I was not at all interested in kids at the time. Once the kids were in bed, we sat on the living room couch, eating popcorn and watching a movie, but before that something kinda magical had occurred. My friend was tucking the kids into bed and I was kind of milling around waiting for her to be done, and I went over to check out the kids’ bookshelf (honestly, I think with just the idea to avoid the diaper change that was happening across the room), and in the midst of the row of book spines, I noticed one called Miss Rumphius, (an odd name, I thought) and pulled it off the shelf. What greeted me when I opened the pages was waves beating against a rocky New England shore, a story that spanned the length of the lifetime of the title character, and the injunction to “make the world more beautiful”. Miss Rumphius, written from the point of view of a niece about her spinster aunt, spoke straight to the center of my soul. And who knows why Miss Rumphius had spoken straight to the center of my teenage soul, a soul that was not even mature or gentle enough to appreciate the little children my friend was babysitting, a soul that was waiting impatiently for my friend to be done tucking them in so we could hang out. But spoken it had. I never forgot that book, and years later, with children of my own, I was thrilled to find it at my local bookstore and buy a copy for my own kids.
Why do I love Miss Rumphius? I think one reason is that it’s seasonal. It covers the seasons in this woman’s life but also the seasons of the year, and I tend to be attracted to the concept of seasons. When she is older, and has to stay in bed all winter due to health problems, it’s more poignant because we, the readers, also saw her when she was young enough to travel and to dream about all that was ahead of her. But this illness is also just a season, and she rises again in the spring.  Another reason I love it is because she travels. Traveling was a big part of my childhood, and I want my own children to value travel, so when Miss Rumphius decides to go on some adventures, traveling, I inwardly cheer for her, knowing she will come back to her familiar house by the sea  enriched and also changed by what she’s seen.
I also love it because here she is, this maiden lady, who has some adventures, but who also suffers and has periods of darkness, but who gets up again and does something so seemingly silly and maybe insignificant as planting flowers.  This is all she can really think to do to “make the world more beautiful”, but just because her offering is small, it doesn’t stop her from making it.  And by the end of the story she’s called The Lupine Lady (lupines being her flower of choice) by all the children who live around her, and lovely lupines are planted everywhere as a testament to her life and her attempt to add some beauty to the world. It reminds me of a quote from a George MacDonald book, The Seaboard Parish, where a young man says he wants to make his mark on the world, and an older clergyman replies that he just wants to remove some of the marks that have been made on the world. This lady, living in many ways a hidden life, finds a way to add beauty and bring gladness to the world around her, and to do a little traveling, too, and that sounds like an excellent life to me and a great example to my children.

*When writing this post I found this awesome narrated audio version of Miss Rumphius! I absolutely love it. But if you haven’t read it, you should read it first!