Bridget and I have had a marathon reading month in preparation for Battle of the Books at her school. We've known about it for a long time (since last September), but Bridget got distracted with reading Harry Potter with her Dad. (We only got through The One and Only Ivan and A Lion to Guard Us before her interest was lost. I blame that stinkin' A Lion to Guard Us. So grim!) I thought that meant she'd given up on the list of 20 books we were supposed to read by March 1st. Then she came home and announced she'd been made captain of her team! This was about February 15th or so. We had two weeks to read 12 books. BAH!!!! (She'd read three or four at school and we read three of them with her old book club.) I left off the longest ones (Phineas L. MacGuire...ERUPTS! by Dowell and Little House in the Big Woods by Wilder), ordered hard copies of some on Amazon.com and on my Kindle. We found ONE at the library (COME ON). I even found two of them cheap on Audible, which meant I could give my voice a rest. (Bridget can and does read on her own, but her favoritest thing is to have me snuggled next to her reading with her. What can I say? I like it too.) So here are eight of the books Bridget and I read in February for Battle of the Books:
1. My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett - one of my favorites. 100% fantasy, fun, and short.
2. Tornado by Betsy Byers - dog stories while a family waits out a tornado in a cellar.
3. Tricking the Tallyman by Jacqueline Davies - also a favorite of mine. Davies somehow made the first census-taking in the United States kind of awesome.
4. Molly's Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen - Russian Jewish immigrants are pilgrims, too!
5. Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary - all the adults lose their minds when a 3rd grade girl doesn't care to learn cursive. The worst.
6. Knights of the Kitchen Table by Jon Scieszka - modern trio of boys are magically transported to Camelot. Meh.
7. The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy - a grandmother teaches her granddaughter the value of honoring family through quilt-making.
8. Sheep by Valerie Hobbs - another dog story. Meh.
I made Bridget flash cards because the word on the street was that it was important to know the authors as well as the name of the book. Then I signed up to be a judge yesterday morning to see what this thing was all about. (Very little paperwork came home about Battle of the Books.) I had so much fun! They were in teams of 3 to 5 people, all from the same class. Two teams (3rd and 4th graders play each other and 5th and 6th graders play each other) would go up against each other, then move on to the next round. I was one of two judges for Bridget's first round. She could answer almost every question and she always knew the author's name. The questions were about plot points in the book, so the answers were always the book title and author. I was sitting behind that tiny desk trying not to cry because I was so proud of her! One of Bridget's great learning strengths is her memory (mine too), so having the flashcards was right up her alley. (That's Lola on her team! And those two boys were just for show.) Her team didn't do as well against the 4th grade teams (experience counts!), but now that I know what's up, she and I are going to be much better prepared next year.
I listened to this on my own last month. Extraordinary kids are tested to see if they have the goods to save the world from an evil genius. Once the team is assembled ("Oceans 11" style), the four children head off to infiltrate the school the Evil Genius is using as a front to build his mind control weapon. Each child on the team was extraordinary in their own way, and therefore they solved problems very differently. I liked that - I was married before I realized there are at least two ways to do everything.
There were hints and near-misses for truly terrible things happening, but for the most part it was pretty low-key action. The message seemed to be to work together, use your gifts to contribute to solving the problem instead of trying to solve the problem on your own. Fun for a 10 year-old, but kind of old news for a 41 year-old.
10. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
That's right! I listened to 35 hours of Dickens in February! I know, right? I love the way Dickens writes each character so distinctly - every person speaks differently, has their own set of values and quirks. It's remarkable. On the other hand, there are SO MANY CHARACTERS that I quickly lost track because I was listening instead of reading a hard copy. I was a quarter of the way in when I decided to watch the BBC mini-series from 2005 at the same time as I was reading. As soon as I'd hit the spot on the show where I'd left off in the book, I'd turn it off so that I was reading ahead of the show. So, I was immersed in Bleak House for a couple of weeks. Fun for me! And probably no one else.
Every character in Bleak House has a connection to a Chancery (court) case known as Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Years and years ago, there was a squabble over a family will, the family took the case to court and thus began the ruination of all the lives. There are lawyers, clerks, plaintiffs, defendants, wards, cripples, orphans, liars, crooks, doctors, saints, moochers, crazies, housekeepers, soldiers, friends, enemies... Everyone! Whew. One way Dickens helped me keep track of people was by giving them a name that described their character. For example; Krook, Flite, Dedlock, Guppy, Simpole, Smallweed. You get the idea!
Since there is too much, I'm only going to highlight a few things that delighted or enlightened me. First, Esther Summerson (if there can be one, she is the main character), a kind and generous saint of a woman, gets small pox from taking care of an orphan (natch). She comes very close to death, but survives, her body and face marked by scars. She wasn't a beauty before, but this is still a blow. Esther brings herself to look in the mirror for the first time after recovering and sees the same eyes looking back at her. Those who loved her before love her still, and more.
“I found every breath of air, and every scent, and every flower and leaf and blade of grass and every passing cloud, and everything in nature, more beautiful and wonderful to me than I had ever found it yet. This was my first gain from my illness. How little I had lost, when the wide world was so full of delight for me.”
When her guardian, John Jarndyce, and her dearest friend, Ava, don't hesitate to hug and kiss her, she wonders if she'd "magnified" her trouble. I parked my car so that I could write that down. Yes! We do choose what we magnify, don't we? Whether it's our trouble or our blessings. I absolutely love that.
One of my other enlightening moments was Sir Leciester Dedlock forgiving his wife, Lady Dedlock, immediately and without reservation when he learns of her secret. She didn't think he would forgive her, so she took off before she gave him the chance. Anyway, no matter our prejudices, when it happens with someone we truly love, our knee-jerk reaction is to forgive immediately. That is always God's reaction to anything we do - to forgive us immediately. We do have to come to him, though.
Last, since this post is taking forevah, Smallweed (the cripple) complaining about his BONES and shouting at his poor granddaughter, Judy, "SHAKE ME UP, JUDY!" Delightful. Smallweed was also a terrible person, so the image of him sliding down in his chair and needing to be "shaken up" to a sitting position is awesome.
Okay, one more, Charles Dance is the scariest guy ever! He played the evilest lawyer in the Bleak House TV series (Mr. Tulkinghorn). My hat is off to that guy. He nailed it.