Fantastic Mr. Dahl

Fantastic Mr. Dahlby Michael Rosen (self-proclaimed biggest fan)

Matt’s interest in Roald Dahl is what sparked my interest in Michael Rosen’s Fantastic Mr. Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Written by a writer about a writer this book tells us of Dahl’s life by using Boy and Flying Solo and the many letters written between home and school that Dahl’s mother had lovingly saved.  The biography shares how life and writing intertwine and intersect.  It’s interesting to see how even the letters written by a schoolboy at ten portend the author Dahl will become.  In one Roald wrote to his sister, Alfhild, saying:  “The barber is a very funny man, his name is Mr. Lundy, when I went to have my hair cut last Monday, a lot of spiders came out from under the cupboard and he stepped on them and there was a nasty squashy mess on the floor.”  Can’t you hear words like those coming from The Twits or The Witches.

Rosen thinks about and describes how he can see the “writer” in Dahl well before Dahl considered becoming a writer himself.  He uses the ‘Great Mouse Plot’ from Boy as an example of how life mirrors writing.  Rosen explains:

            …If the story about the mouse and the sweetshop lade is true (and we can never be absolutely, totally sure about that), and it really was Roald whoe came up with the ‘Great Mouse Plot’, then I think he had already begun to invent ways of writing.


Because if you plot and plan a trick, you need to think ahead and imagine ‘What would happen if…?’  If you’re some how live to imagine ‘What would happen if…?’ such as ‘What would happen if my best friend turned into a cat…?’ then you’re well on the way to being a writer.

The biography is a combination of life-story, photographs, illustrations and fun facts helping us discover how the writer and the writing came to be.  Rosen says, “Time is something that every writer needs.  Time to think, wonder, dream, plan and collect.  And Roald Dahl had plenty of that.”  We are very glad he did.  His stories are favorites from James to Matilda and all the others in and around and in between.

Wild Boy

Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyronby Mary Losure

a piece of history we should all try to know better and understand

This book tells the incredible story of this historical boy – why was he there, how could he survive, what did he wish?  Reading Mary Losure’s, Wild Boy – the Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron helped me answer these questions and then think of more.  The book is incredibly well researched (look here) and beautifully written to tell the story of a life. Where gaps exist in the record, Mary Losure does a masterful job of putting the pieces together so readers have a complete understanding of what this wild boy must have seen and felt during his exposure to the civilized world.  One he must surely have been cast aside from.

As you read you have to wonder about what people and life was like at the turn of the 18th century.  Curious, fearful, scientific, superstitious – whatever combination was  held, the wild boy was captured repeatedly and watched.  He was transported halfway across the country of France in the name of science. But it was through this name, that his humanity was oft times forgotten. (It does seem that we tend to destroy a lot of things in this name.)

As the story unfolds we are able to see Victor grow and change.  We are able to learn as he learns.  We are able to see how he is seen and treated over the course of his lifetime.  And, if we choose, we are able to look inside and ask ourselves what is kind and just. Do we take the time to accept and understand the differences in people around each day?  Do we take time to appreciate our gifts – the warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze, the music of rain?  Sometimes this book is troubling and sad.

After dinner, both boys and girls were let out to play in separate parts of the garden.  When he saw the other children the wild boy ran and hid.

Sometimes he crouched in the Institute’s attic behind a pile of old building materials.

But when rain pattered on the roof and everyone else went inside, the wild boy often crept into the garden, to the tiny, formal reflecting pond that sat among the flower beds.  He would circle the pond several times, then sit by it’s edge and rock himself back and forth as the rain dimpled the surface of the pond.  He’d gaze into the water, toss in a handful of dead leaves, and watch them drift.

But it is also full of hope, endurance, friendship and care. This book immerses you in the growing story of Victor’s life as he changes from boy to man.  Though he find a place, he is always kept on the outside, and never fully recognized as human by society.

That was then, but this is now. Could this story happen today?  Wild Boy – the Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron will make you question just how civilized our world really is.  Have we changed? When you consider the contemporary story, The Dogs in Winter by Bobbie Pyron you’ll have to say, “no” or “not much.”   Mary Losure does a wonderful job sharing and highlighting the incredible strength of human spirit and the importance fleeting glimmers of kindness have in a person’s life.

Read Wild Boy – the Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron and wonder.

Dr. Seuss

Theodore Seuss Geisel

Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) is one of the most valued children’s books writers of American history. You probably know him because of The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham, but most people don’t know who he really is and his story.

He was born on March 4th, 1904. He was raised on Fairfield Street in Springfield, Massachusetts and attended Springfield Central High School. After High School, he attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. His writing and drawing and humor really took off there. He became editor of Jack-o-Lantern, the school’s humor magazine. In his senior year he was stripped of that job due to drinking during the times of Prohibition, so he started publishing cartoons under various pseudonyms including Dr. Seuss. That is when he officially adopted his pen name.

He married a Dartmouth classmate Helen Palmer, and his first real success was the “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” This catchphrase was featured in advertisements for the Flit bug repellent. The ads were of someone saying to Henry the catchphrase when there looked to be a massive cloud of bugs bearing down upon them. That phrase was the “Got Milk” of that time; everyone knew it. For the next three decades of his life, he made advertisements for all different companies, including GE, Ford, and many other big names.

His first children’s book was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and he wrote eleven others until his HUGE success, The Cat in The Hat.  It is what he is most known for. The book surfaced from the Doctor’s ( 🙂 ) friend from the publishing company Houghton Mifflin asking him to write a book with 225 words that first graders should know. The Houghton Mifflin director also wanted the book to be entertaining for the kids. In nine months, Dr. Seuss had used 223 of the words and included 13 more in The Cat in The Hat. There has been a TV show made from it as well as a film. It really took off with the kids and parents of America.

March 2nd, a few days ago, would have been Seuss’ 109th birthday. But people have not forgotten. For one, Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in The Hat are number 5th and 9th on the all time best selling children’s books. But also Dr. Seuss’ birthday has been made National Read Across America Day by the National Education Association (NEA). It was created to promote reading in America, which fits him perfectly!


The Fairy Ring

The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the Worldor Elsie and Frances Fool the World – a true story

by Mary Losure

World War I brings Frances Griffith from Cape Town, South Africa to Cottingley, Yorkshire, England to live with her aunt, uncle and cousin until the Great War is over and her father returns from the front. Everything is drab and dark in England.  Nothing is as her mother had told her it would be – no joy or light. Cousin Elsie, six years her senior, is kind and fun loving.  There is a little happiness when she returns home from work each day and she and Frances have fun. Frances is often alone though and the place she finds most full of light is the beck: the little stream behind the cottage.  It was there that Frances believes she see fairies.  Each day she saw green clad men about eighteen inches tall marching through the willows.  She never spoke to them, or they to her.  They just became part of her days.  When she told her family, she was teased. Elsie had also been teased for not being a great reader or speller.  She was a wonderful artist though. Tired of the teasing, Elsie created some paper fairy cutouts, beautifully painted along with the plan to pose along the bank of the beck to photograph.  She hopes the photograph will serve as proof to end the taunts and teasing.

Photography was the new technology of 1917.  Taking and developing pictures on glass plates was a difficult and expensive process.  Elsie did convince her father to let her use the camera.  When he developed the one plate the girls had been given – sure enough the fairies emerged. Elsie’s dad is not convinced it is not a trick but he developed the plate and knows that the photograph has not been tampered with.   The girls use his doubt to convince him to let them take one more photo. This one is of a gnome and while they don’t fully convince everyone in the family, the photographs do end the teasing.

A few years pass and then someone mentions these pictures to a group, the Theosophists, eager to prove the existence of fairies and nature spirits. That involved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of detective Sherlock Holmes and created more attention and publicity for the girls.  Everyone wants to know the girls who see fairies; wants to see what she sees.  Everyone wants to find the girls quickly because fairies are known only to reveal themselves to the young and innocent.  What happens next is an incredible story of a great hoax, perpetuated by two girls who never intended to deceive the wider world.  They just didn’t want to get into trouble and didn’t know what to do when the tale they had begun took on a life of its own.

This is the true story of how two girls fooled the world with their fairy photos. The book describes the girls’ personalities. This was a time of great technological changes and new strains of the environment. The books share the what is happening in Frances and Elsie’s lives at the time along with letters and direct accounts of the ordeal so readers can understand how it came to be and perhaps why some many people at the time wanted the photographs to be real.  The Fairy Ring makes you wonder and think.  What you have done in their shoes?

The Dreamer

TThe Dreamerhe Dreamer is the story of Pablo Neruda.  As the jacket flap says, “Combining elements of magical realism with biography, poetry, literary fiction, and sensorial, transporting illustrations, Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis take readers on a rare journey of the heart and imagination.” A rare journey indeed…through words and sounds, colors and emotions, joy and agony.

The collector in me immediately connected with the shy, determined Neftali.  His shelves of feathers, rocks, shells and nests and his daily joy in looking at and seeing the wonders around him spoke to me. His days of dreaming and wondering are like quiet meditations.  Those calm languid feelings collide abruptly with the harsh anger and bitter barked commands as his father enters the story.  Neftali is never enough, never quite right, never important.  His moments of shame and humiliation are painful stinging slaps stinging showing another side of reality.  Never enough, until finally, Neftali Reyes in becoming Pablo Neruda found the way to follow his heart without shaming his family name.

The words, the pictures, the poems make this a strikingly beautiful book, but it is not for everyone – lovers of action and a tightly woven plot will likely find the pace tedious, but readers who savor the shimmer of well polished words like these when Neftali first sees the ocean…

“Neftali’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of the infinite colors and the gentle curve of the faraway horizon. He had never imagined the height of the white spray breaking against the rocks, the dark sand, or the air that whispered of fish and salt. He stood, captivated, feeling small and insignificant, and at the same time as if he belonged to something much grander.”

… will enjoy each and every moment.

Around the World

Around The WorldAround the World – three remarkable journeys

a graphic novel by Matt Phelan

Last weekend I read a  newspaper about a young woman who completed a solo circumnavigation in her sailboat.  She turned sixteen on the voyage and claims to be the youngest person to complete this incredible challenge.  (Interesting to note Guinness World Book of Records no longer tracks items like this so they don’t encourage kids to take too much risk.)  In the article she said she learned many things on the journey – how to play the flute (the guitar was a challenge in choppy seas), about the world, her boat and a great deal about herself.

That got me thinking.  For me that may be what is most intriguing part of embarking on a solo journey of any magnitude.  I admire the courage, determination and perseverance of these choices.  It makes me wonder about the stories of all who have attempted this challenge – why do they think to do it?  How are they changed by the attempt or completion?  What does it lead too?

Three Remarkable Journeys Around the World adds both answers and more questions to those wonderings from me.  It starts with, “It all began, as many great adventures begin, with a story.” This sets the stage for the travels for the three adventurers featured in this book –Thomas Stevens, Joshua Slocum, and Nellie Bly.  Thomas Stevens traveled in 1884 from San Francisco to Boston on a 50-inch bicycle.  Joshua Slocum was the first man to sail solo around the world in 1895.  Nellie Bly was a pioneer journalist who traveled around the world to beat the time record of Phileas Fogg in 1889.  With his typical attention to detail, Matt Phelan captures their adventures in graphic form.  It’s beautifully drawn and skillfully arranged to capture the spirit of each adventurer.  The tales show how each person embarking on a journey of this magnitude also has an individual quest – an internal search.  It is amazing how Matt Phelan’s art and story craft develops and shows changes to the inner lives of these people.  Around the World weaves an exciting story of three historical characters whose bold endurance and stamina go beyond mere bravery.  Their willingness to focus on tasks some thought were unattainable paved the way for others who dare to dream!   What would your journey be?  It doesn’t have to be for or grand to make an impact… hmmm

Check out this preview and then dive right in – adventure anyone?

The Candy Bomber

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"The Candy Bomber by Michael O. Tunnnell is a true story of hope and kindness. At the end of World War II Berlin was divided and in ruins.   The people had little.  The Allied Forces were airlifting supplies and food but US Air Force pilot, Gail Halvorsen knew there were children there grateful for food and freedom.  He spoke to the children who looked through the airfield fence.  They didn’t ask for chocolate or gum, nothing, but Halvorsen wanted to give them hope.  He told them the next time he cam back he would bring them chocolate.  The children asked how they would know it was him flying over.  He told them he would wiggle his wings.

Halvorsen gathered chocolate bars and gum from his buddies at the base, and using handkerchiefs, fashioned parachutes so the candy would float down to the children below.  “I had so much fun on my first drop … when I flew over the airport I could see the children…I wiggled my wings and the little group went crazy… I was able to give them a little candy and a little hope, but they were able to fill me us with so much more,” Gail Halvorsen wrote in the prologue of the book.

Read The Candy Bomber to learn about this amazing man and his commitment to humankind.  He didn’t stop with just one drop or with just operation.  His effort to show kindness to those most in need is inspirational.  What can you do to inspire hope in the world?  Share your ideas in a comment – no idea is too small.  After all The Candy Bomber began with only two sticks of gum.

Click here to learn more about Gail Halverson and Operation Little Vittles.

Wideness and Wonder

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O'KeeffeWideness and Wonder – the life and art of Georgia O’Keeffe by Susan Goldman Rubin is the story of one woman’s determined effort to do what she loved – create art.  Packed with information and a  rich collection of photographs and art reproductions this book opens the door on the artist’s entire life.  When Georgia was in eighth grade she said she would grow up to be an artist. Closely tied to the land and her family, Georgia always worked to paint what she loved.  Each image was a celebration.

At first Georgia tried to stay within the lines of “good art and technique.”  It was fine, but it was also like everything else.  It wasn’t until Georgia found a way to share her unique view with the world that her art sang.  When she discovered her individual sense of expression and sought to share her own interpretation and arrangements of color, shape and form she knew she had found her true passion in life.  She made sure each image captured how she felt.  Georgia knew that, if nurtured, passion continued to grow and develop leading a person onward.  “Success doesn’t come with painting one picture.  It’s building step by step against great odds…Every year I have to carry the thing I do enough further so that people are surprised again.”  These quotes, found on page 79 of the book, show how Georgia created and thought about sharing her work with the world.

Later in life, once her success assured that she could devote her life to creation, Georgia O’Keeffe moved on to painting the world as she saw it boldly, serenely, full of light and color for the sheer joy and pleasure of learning how she saw her world.

As I read Georgia O’Keeffe’s story I was amazed and thankful for her determined life.  So many times it would have been easier to fade away into her family obligations – to care for her parents and her sisters.  So many times it just would have been easier to pack up the paints and colored pencils to live a quiet life on the lake.  We are so lucky she did not.  We are so fortunate she did not allow her vision to be put aside until life became more settled and taking time to create was convenient.

It is important to share your vision with the world no matter how challenging that is. It is the only way our world becomes richer and full of possibilities – when we understand more than our own mind.  What is your passion?  What talents will you develop?  How will you share your unique vision with the world?  How are you and Georgia O’Keeffe alike?  Read Wideness and Wonder and then let us know.