Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Louisa May Alcott: She Was Told To Write A Book For Girls. She Reluctantly Tried. The Rest is History.

Louisa May Alcott was 35 when she wrote the following journal entry - a prelude to the success (and fame) that was to come:
September 1867.
–Niles, partner of Roberts, asked me to write a girls' book. Said I'd try.

Louisa May Alcott (Nov. 29, 1832 - March 6, 1888)
Photograph dated around 1862,
when she was a Civil War nurse, at 30 years old.

My daughter and I just watched the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women for the umpteenth time, and it got me thinking about Louisa May Alcott and her own story...

Writing A Girls' Book
Mr. Niles later repeated his request, this time approaching her father...
May, 1868.
–Father saw Mr. Niles about a fairy book. Mr. N. wants a girls' story, and I begin "Little Women." Marmee, Anna, and May all approve my plan. So I plod away, though I don't enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it.

It only took her two months to write the first half, and Little Women (Part 1) was published in October, 1868.  It was an immediate success.

Like her protagonist Josephine "Jo" March, Louisa May Alcott was a bit of a tomboy, had a fiery temper, lived in poverty during the Civil War, and became a writer to earn money. But unlike Jo and the other March sisters, she never married.

Louisa's Journals and Letters about Little Women, Part II:  The "Wedding Marches"?
Oct. 30 1868.
-Mr. N. wants a second volume for spring. Pleasant notices and letters arrive, and much interest in my little women, who seem to find friends by their truth to life, as I hoped. 

A lot of young readers had their hearts set on Jo marrying Laurie. Read on...

November 1st.
–Began the second part of "Little Women." I can do a chapter a day, and in a month I mean to be done. A little success is so inspiring that I now find my "Marches" sober, nice people, and as I can launch into the future, my fancy has more play. Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman's life. I won't marry Jo to Laurie to please any one.

Poor Laurie.
Reading Little Women as a young girl, I remember thinking, How could Jo have let Laurie go!?

I'm reminded of this every time I watch the film with Winona Ryder and Christian Bale.  Their chemistry is perfect, and the proposal scene is heart breaking!

If I'm honest with myself, I've not only never fully gotten over the fact that Laurie didn't end up with Jo, but that he ended up with her youngest sister, Amy.

Amy!  Who wore a clothespin on her nose every night. Who burned Jo's manuscript. Who broke Jo's heart by going off to Paris with Aunt March!

I think I was about eleven years old when I read Little Women for the first time. I just couldn't understand how stodgy Professor Bhaer - so old - was Jo's destiny, not Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, her charming "Teddy".

It seems that Louisa May Alcott created the character of Prof. Bhaer to appease her readers and her publisher.

But Jo's marriage to the Professor did make perfect plot sense with her plan to open a school for boys in the house left to her by Aunt March, something she may not have done if she had married Laurie. (Well you never know...I think they could have done it - after traveling all over Europe, of course!)

Because of the great success of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott quickly finished up Part II.  But what to title it?

I LOVE this archived letter that Louisa wrote to her publisher, Mr. Niles, regarding the title of the second half of her popular book...

Mr Niles,
     I can only think of the following titles. “Little Women Act Second”. “Leaving the Nest. Sequel to Little Women”.
     Either you like.  A jocose friend suggests “Wedding Marches” as there is so much pairing off, but I dont approve.
     Suggestions gratefully received.
yrs truly
L. M. A.

In 1869, the book was eventually published in America simply titled, Little Women Part Second, but in Britain it was given the endearing title, Good Wives.

Beginning in 1880, both parts have since been published as the single volume we know today, Little Women.

Read this interesting article "10 Things You May Not Know About Little Women" here, from MentalFloss; and more about Louisa May Alcott here, on Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.

You can read the Journals and Letters of Louisa May Alcott,  here, on Project Gutenberg.

And I hope you've seen the 1994 film adaptation.  The music, casting, cinematography, costumes, and set design put you right in Louisa May Alcott's world and book.  The movie is as enjoyable as the novel!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lenten Prayer Request

“What shall pass from history into eternity? The human person with all its relations, such as friendship and love." 
-Fr. Georges Florovsky
The Baker Family (source)
Taking a step away from children's book blogging, to take a moment to honor a dead father and humbly ask you to pray for the precious family he has left behind (a now widowed wife and six children).

Fr. Matthew, an outstanding Orthodox priest, died in a tragic car accident on his way home from Vespers this past Sunday night, during an evening snow storm in Connecticut. His children were with him, but were thankfully not injured.
Fr. Matthew Baker (source)
Memory eternal.

Read more here; and if you feel so inclined, you may make a donation here - 100% of the donations received in this campaign will go directly to his wife. She has 6 young children to care for, and has lost the family's only income. 
(Go here for the local news story.)

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Bookish Farewell...

Yesterday I felt kind of like Kathleen Kelly when she said goodbye to her "Shop Around the Corner" in You've Got Mail.

I bid a fond farewell to the "Bookish" Space (#16) my daughter and I started over a year ago at a local antique mall.

We put everything on sale, and the things that didn't sell were packed up and hauled out (maybe there's an Etsy shop in my future...?)

The reason I moved away from this fun little business venture? There are two (and they don't involve Fox Books!):

1- Energy (my lack of). Our space was literally in a Brick Basement, and it required a lot of effort to get our "stuff" up and down those stairs, changing the look with the seasons. (Because if you're going to have a space at an antique mall, it has to look cute!) It took two of us. My daughter, the creative one behind this little hobby, had to move out of state last summer. She and her husband recently moved back, but she will be otherwise occupied:  Baby Number 2 is due in May (Grand-baby BOY again)!!!!

2- Space. My sunroom at home - where we stored our crafts and "to be sold stuff" - will be out of commission for a while (the room is hopefully going to be renovated or torn down and rebuilt soon).  There will be lots going on at my house!

Want to take a quick look back with me?  Here are some of my favorite photos of our Bookish little space...

We were so proud of these little tags my daughter designed!

My daughter's beautiful book page wreath.

This was a fun and festive spot!

So many fun books - vintage and antique.

Is there anything better than a suitcase full of books??

Got out some cobwebs, for a spooky Bookish look!
Last year's Spring offerings and creations.

Thanks for letting me share these few photos from our past (busy!!) year and two months.  I'm not going to leave you with the image of the bare walls (which I couldn't bear to photograph) in our empty space, so... 

Goodbye, Shop Girl.  For now.  

Hello, Blog Girl.  Welcome back.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Madeline: A New York Girl? 75 Years Young!

Those twelve little girls in two straight lines? The smallest one was from the Big Apple!
Credit: Madeline at the Paris Flower Market, 1955. The Estate of Ludwig Bemelmans TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC.

When I visited New York City this past December with my husband, one of the things on my "to do" list was to sip a drink and listen to jazz piano at The Carlyle hotel, where the famed walls of Bemelmans' Bar are covered with Ludwig Bemelmans' gorgeous "Central Park" murals (the artist painted murals of New York scenes in exchange for 18 months’ free rent for himself and his family).

Surrounded by the art of the creator of Madeline, with wonderful food and music, and a happy crowd of Christmas shoppers taking a leisurely break, it was a fun New York moment that I'll never forget!

So why New York, and not Paris?  Seems this Austrian born artist/illustrator felt most at home in America - he arrived in New York at the age of 16!  And that's where his character of Madeline was born...

Even though Bemelmans' early life was not a very happy one, he used the Madeline books to re-invent the childhood he mourned, "the one he wished he had". 

He very artfully combined childhood memories with experiences he had as an adult to create his first Madeline book in 1939.

It all made sense this morning when I was reading today's Boston Globe piece about the "Madeline at 75" exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  "The Carle's" popular exhibit - which debuted at the New York Historical Society last year, will be at The Carle through February 22, 2015.  

Surprises about Bemelmans' mischievous little Madeline are revealed at this wonderful exhibit, researched through writings and interviews with Belemans' daughter and his grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano: one is that she is an American-born girl who happens to be living at a French boarding school in Paris (as opposed to a French girl at a Paris orphanage, as many assume - go here for the NPR interview with Bemelemans' grandson).

Madeline, the beloved star of the classic children’s books, may have lived in Paris but she was born in New York. According to “The Smallest One Was Madeline: An Appreciation of Ludwig Bemelmans,” the essay in the show’s catalog by curator Jane Bayard Curley, Bemelmans wrote his first draft on the back of a menu at Pete’s Tavern near Gramercy Park. An Austrian immigrant and artist and bon vivant, Bemelmans would publish “Madeline” in September 1939 — the week World War II began. 

At the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst,
you can see the original Madeline manuscript
(Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh for the Boston Globe - source)

Also on exhibit at The Carle are letters between Bemelmans and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.  Did you know that Bemelmans hoped to collaborate on a book with Mrs. Kennedy about Madeline at the White House? (Caroline Kennedy was a huge fan of the books.) 

Jacqueline Kennedy reading Madeline to her daughter Caroline
(Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh for the Boston Globe - source)

Unfortunately, Bemelmans died in 1962. But luckily in 2011, his grandson, James Bemelmans Marciano - who carries on his grandfather's legacy - finally wrote and published a Madeline story in which she goes to the White House.

And did you know that Miss Clavel is not a nun, but a governess? You can read more here from the Boston Globe piece about the exhibit (including some details about Bemelmans' sad childhood and the character of Miss Clavel that are not part of the exhibit).

Bemelmans also illustrated 31 covers for the New Yorker magazine.  Go here to see many of them.
Cover by Bemelmans for The New Yorker, Oct. 9, 1954

Below, you might enjoy the informative segment that CBS Sunday Morning News did about Bemelmans and his precocious character, Madeline. (Works best if you view full screen, or click the above link).

Friday, February 13, 2015


Caught red-handed, reading:
Don't you love stories with main characters who are true book lovers? 
Below are some of my favorites - did I leave out yours?

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Everyone knows Jo is crazy about books and writing.)

2. The Library by Sarah Stewart, pictures by David Small. Elizabeth Brown loves books.  A lot.  You'll love what she does with them all when she grows up...

3. Matilda by Roald Dahl - she teaches herself to read and by the age of 5 and 1/2, she's read all the children's books in the library...

4. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (Hermione is one book-smart girl!)

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen...“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”

6.  Anne of Green Gables by Elizabeth Montgomery.  Anne Shirley: "Don't you just love poetry that gives you a crinkly feeling up and down your back?"

7.  84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff, is collection of correspondence, from 1949-1969, between Helene and a book buyer at an antiquarian bookseller in London.  It's basically a lovefest for out-of-print books, the bookstore Marks and Co., and British culture.

8.  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Guy Montag goes from burning books to rescuing them.

This Valentine's Day show some Bookish Love...
Read a Book,
Give a Book,
Hug a Book!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why Jane Austen is on My iPhone...

It hasn't been that long since I got an iPhone. I knew my first reaction to hearing it ring - or "ding" with the arrival of a text message - would be stress, as opposed to anticipation of a fun conversation (don't even get me started on group texts; they're the worst!) 

I used to feel guilty about not liking to answer my phone, but then I learned that it's a common trait among introverts, not just an aversion to cell phones because of my exposure to bad smartphone etiquette.  

So, when I finally succumbed to getting a smartphone, why did I choose a portrait of Jane Austen (a fellow introvert) for my phone cover?

"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!"
- Jane Austen [Notecard, source]

We introverts would rather be lost in a book, or spend one-on-one time with a close friend, then be on the phone or in a group setting. (Unlike Mrs. Bennet, it takes a huge amount of thought and effort for me to make small talk.)

We introverts treasure alone time. When I'm alone, I'm generally recharging my batteries from being with people, and a phone call feels intrusive and takes energy I may not have at the moment ("Resting your feet is also important, especially after a ball," Jane would interject).  Downtime doesn't feel unproductive to us.

We introverts like face to face time for conversation. Of course, a short email or text is the most convenient way to answer a quick question, but I'd much rather spend time face to face with a friend if we're going to have a meaningful conversation (I can just hear Jane now: "especially if that friend is Mr. Darcy").  

We introverts don't like distractions when we're in the middle of something (in Jane's case, writing a novel). When I'm with someone, or in the middle of a project, I feel frustrated taking a call or answering a text message.  I'm focused, and getting interrupted by a phone call from someone who is not there can feel overwhelming.

Don't get me wrong, I look forward to chatting on the phone and catching up with family and close friends whom I don't live near enough to visit with face to face. 

I just can't handle being available for unexpected interruptions 24/7. That's why, when it's not convenient to talk, I let my calls go straight to my voice mail, and call people back.
You can imagine I felt very validated when I came across an article, "Nine Signs You Might Be An Introvert", and read Number Six:  You haven’t answered a ringing telephone in years!

"...The telephone is intrusive, especially for introverts, whose brains don’t switch gears all that quickly. When we’re deep in thought, a ringing telephone is like a shrieking alarm clock in the morning. And we often give bad phone—awkward, with pauses. We struggle without visual cues, and our tendency to ponder before we talk doesn’t play well on the telephone...Dislike of the phone is often presented as a moral failing. But honestly, it’s not the people on the phone we dislike, it’s the instrument of delivery."  [source: Nine Signs That You Might Be An Introvert, by Sophia Dembling.]

By the way, I'm pretty sure Mr. Darcy is an introvert.  Maybe I'll put him on my next phone cover...

Have an Inkling You Might Be an Introvert?
Not sure if you're an introvert? In a nutshell, here are the Nine Signs to consider.  (Read detailed descriptions here.)
1. You rarely think, "the more the merrier".
2. You consider doing nothing about something.
3. Sometimes you feel like your head might explode.
4. You hide in the bathroom sometimes.
5. You are ready to leave parties shortly after arriving.
6. You haven't answered a ringing telephone in years.
7. You prefer one close friend to a 100 lovely acquaintances.
8. You can't imagine what all those people find to talk about.
9. You actively avoid anything that might involve audience participation.

So why do I think Miss Austen, if she were alive today, would understand me and my lack of enthusiasm for phone interruptions?

A Few Awesome (Introvert) Austen-isms
Take a peek at these quotes, which have led many to think Jane was an introvert.  Most of them are taken from letters to her "one close friend", her sister Cassandra...

Ah! There is nothing like staying home, for real comfort.

Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.

Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies.

There is a monstrous deal of stupid quizzing, & common-place nonsense talked, but scarcely any wit.

I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.

We are to have a tiny party here tonight. I hate tiny parties, they force one into constant exertion. 

. . . tho’ I like Miss H. M. as much as one can at my time of Life after a day’s acquaintance, it is uphill work to be talking to those whom one knows so little.

But for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.

- Jane Austen

Saturday, February 7, 2015

We Can't Help But Make a Fuss Over Charles Dickens

Today marks 203 years since the birth of Charles Dickens.  He may not have wanted a monument in his honor, but last year (on what would have been his 202nd birthday) a five foot sculpture of him was unveiled in Great Britain, with three of his great great great grandchildren present!

Tom, Lydia, and Oliver Dickens [photo source]

And what did those grandchildren do?  Took selfies with their GGG Grandfather, of course!  Oliver Dickens, nine, said: ‘It feels really special. I’ve read his books and love Oliver Twist the best.’ [source]

Oliver Dickens eye to eye with his ancestor, Charles (source)

The life-size bronze, by sculptor Martin Jennings, was put on display in the Guildhall Square in Portsmouth, the city in which Dickens was born.  Read my past post about Dicken's birthplace, here.