Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

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Excerpt: This is the heartwarming tale of a young motherless girl called Emily who has recently lost her beloved father. Emily’s mother’s side of the family draw lots to decide who will have the responsibility of taking care of the young child. Emily goes to stay with her strict Aunt Elizabeth, loving Aunt Laura and friendly Cousin Jimmy at the idyllic location of New Moon Farm on Prince Edward Island. Despite her immense sense of loss, Emily draws comfort from her beautiful surroundings, the friendships she makes at every turn and ultimately her new family.

  • Title: Emily of New Moon
  • Author: L.M. Montgomery
  • Published: 1923 by McClelland and Stewart, later published by Virago Press, 2013.
  • Location of the story: Prince Edward Island, Canada.
  • Main Characters: Emily Starr, Aunt Elizabeth, Aunt Laura, Cousin Jimmy, Teddy, Ilse, Perry.

Thirty years after I had read the Anne of Green Gables series I picked up Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery.  When I shared that I would be reading this book on social media, many people told me how much I would love the book. I must admit my thoughts were laced with a great deal of doubt. Would an author who had beguiled me in childhood be able to exert the same power over me in my maturity? I can only answer in the affirmative. Undoubtably so.  

The story opens with the revelation that Emily Starr’s father is dying and has but a few days to live. We witness the heart wrenching sequence, where motherless Emily is cruelly introduced to this fact via a woman who is a domestic help to the small family. Emily, a highly imaginative child, finds the luminous, magical world she has created for herself, crumbling before her eyes. Her consumptive father, her one and only mainstay in life, is being taken away from her and she has no-one else, in the whole wide world to call her own, except for her cats.

To add to the heartbreak, Emily’s maternal relatives, the Murrays, people who have shunned her father during his lifetime are charged with looking after the orphan. They do this willingly, as part of their duty towards their long-gone sister, Emily’s mother. The relatives assemble at the Starr house after Douglas Starr’s death, to draw lots and decide who the responsibility of bringing up the child will fall to. Strict Aunt Elizabeth, sweet Aunt Laura and funny Cousin Jimmy bring Emily home to New Moon Farm, on the other side of Prince Edward Island.

Emily’s great grief at losing her father is relieved by a number of factors. One of these are the lengthy letters that she secretly writes to her father. These letters help her to connect with him, allay her loneliness and also allow her to heal via the act of creative writing.

Emily’s grief is also alleviated by the joy she finds in the natural beauty surrounding New Moon Farm. She finds joy in the trees, the flowers and the beauty of New Moon’s surroundings. When Emily sees an object of great beauty or is moved by a vision or a scene, she experiences a moment of great ecstasy, that moves her to write.

…And always when the flash came to her, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.

Emily is also enraptured with Cousin Jimmy’s beautiful garden. Cousin Jimmy provides Emily with companionship and a shared love for poetry. Due to an unfortunate accident that occurred during Cousin Jimmy’s childhood, that caused irreparable damage to his head, the folk around New Moon Farm are of the opinion that Cousin Jimmy is ‘not all there’.

Emily, who grows to like Cousin Jimmy’s gentle ways, states memorably:

As for Cousin Jimmy, he was nice. Whatever part of him was missing, it wasn’t his heart.

Emily forges a great many friendships. There is the tomboy Ilse who lives next door. Emily and Ilse are constantly sparring but despite this fact, their bond of friendship is very strong. Emily, motivates motherless, undisciplined Ilse to attend school.

Emily also befriends artistic Teddy and helps him to emerge from his possessive mother’s shadow. But most of all, Emily influences, farmhand Perry. Perry tries to learn etiquette and manners and strives to do well at his lessons at school.

Outside of Emily’s close knit circle of friends is kind Aunt Laura. In Aunt Laura’s affection, Emily tries to find the mother that she never knew.

Emily of New Moon, the first book in the Emily Starr trilogy, introduces us to Emily, shows us how she adjusts to the new environment of New Moon Farm, how she makes innumerable, meaningful relationships with the people around her and how she constantly seeks solace for the loss of her father though writing.

Emily’s character, like that of Anne Shirley’s, is laced with faults. We witness her getting into various scrapes but we also see that she is conscientious enough to try to redeem herself in the situation, which makes her character eminently likable.

One cannot help but draw comparisons between Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. Both books are set in Montgomery’s native Prince Edward Island. Both Anne and Emily are orphans who feel unwanted in their future homes, at least initially. Both Anne and Emily find people in the household who are kind and sympathetic to their emotional needs. Anne finds Matthew, Emily finds Aunt Laura and Cousin Jimmy. Both girls forge close friendships; Anne with Diana Barry, Emily with Ilse. Both girls have potential future suitors. Anne and Emily both have a hard time with their teachers in school. Both girls are highly imaginative, with a love for reading and writing. I must say that I feel Emily gets into fewer scrapes than Anne!

Even though there are undeniable parallels, the story for Emily of New Moon was interesting enough to claim my attention. The writing was especially poignant at times. The death of Emily’s father and her letters to her father are instilled with such pathos that one cannot but weep along with Emily, for her loss and how alone she is in the world. One can take heart though from Emily’s indomitable spirit and her ability to forge friendships and find beauty in her surroundings.

Montgomery has yet again presented to us a passionate, willful young woman with a tragic past, eventful present and promising future.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

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Title: Owl Moon

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: John Schoenherr

Published: 1987

Main Characters: a little girl, her father

Short Synopsis of the Story: One moonlit winter night, long past the little girl’s usual bedtime, a girl and her father embark on a special expedition into the deep woods. They trudge through the white snow. The only sounds are that of the winter night: a train whistle, a dog answering the train with a howl. You have to be as quiet as you can when you go owling. The owling expedition has been a long time in coming and the little girl is excited to at last have the chance to go on this adventure with her father. Pa reaches a spot in the woods and mimics the call of a Great Horned Owl. Pa calls many times and is not rewarded with an answer. The little girl’s brothers have forewarned her of the possibility of not spotting an owl so she is not unduly disappointed. The girl’s face becomes icy with cold but she doesn’t complain. They move deeper and deeper into the forest, into the depths of the dark trees until they come to a clearing. Pa mimics the owl’s call once again and this time there is a response through the trees. Pa and the little girl smile with anticipation and the owl moves closer until Pa shines his torchlight on the owl’s face just as it is about to land on a branch. For what seems like an eternity the owl, Pa and the little girl hold each other in a long stare. Then the owl lifts its great wings and disappears into the night. The girl and her Pa, walk home with lifted spirits and the knowledge that you don’t need warmth or words to go owling. All you need is  a night with an Owl Moon and a heart full of hope.

Favorite Part of the Story:  Author of the story Jane Yolen, had three small children who frequently went owling with their father, David Stemple in the wintry woods surrounding their rural Massachusetts home. The illustrator, John Schoenherr fills the pages with vivid, evocative images that pair with the simple, beautiful writing perfectly. Some of the scenes and landmarks in the book are taken from Schoenherr’s personal experiences walking with his children around the Schoenherr farm. Owl Moon is an unforgettable book to read with your children, particularly on a cold, wintry night. It is filled with a great spirit of adventure that both adults and children will find heartwarming.

Vincent and Camille and a Little Dip into van Gogh’s Past

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Author: Réne van Blerk

Illustrator: Wouter Tulp

Published: 2013

Main Characters: Vincent (of van Gogh fame!), Camille, Camille’s Mother and Father.

Short Synopsis of the Story: Camille has been asked by Mister Vincent a painter to help him with a little job. Camille’s parents ask Camille what the job is but Camille doesn’t know. Camille sets off from home and walks to Mister Vincent’s yellow house. On the way he sees a very loud train that clatters and causes a loud noise on the rail tracks above a bridge. As the train disappears the noise of the train becomes fainter and fainter. In a small pond opposite Mister Vincent’s yellow house Camille looks for frogs but is disappointed to see none there. He does notice his own reflection in the surface of the pond. Mister Vincent spies Camille from the upper window of his yellow house and beckons him. Camille is led into Mister Vincent’s house which is filled with beautifully coloured paintings. Camille is asked to sit down and Mister Vincent gives him a large glass of lemonade to drink. In the meantime, Mister Vincent starts painting on a canvas but Camille can’t see what he is painting because the back of the canvas faces him.  Camille asks Mister Vincent why his house is painted yellow. Vincent replies

Yellow’s such a beautiful colour. Yellow’s the colour of the sun, of cornfields and of fresh butter.And yellow’s the colour of sunflowers too and buttercups and leaves in the autumn.

Vincent, in turn, asks Camille what color he would paint the house if given the choice. Camille thinks deeply and replies with the answer-green. Green reminds Camille of the grass, leaves and spring… and frogs. Then he changes his mind and replies with the answer-blue. Blue reminds Camille of the sky, the colour of his own eyes, the colour of his father’s big coat and his own cap. Then Camille changes his mind yet again and replies saying he would paint the house red. Red is the color of strawberries and roses. As Camille changes his mind a picture of the house in three different colors can be seen.

Mister Vincent laughs aloud when he hears about Camille’s problem with picking a colour. He remarks that Camille loves colour as much as he does. At this point Camille’s mother and father arrive at Mister Vincent’s house. Mister Vincent comments that Camille has been a great help to him. Camille protests and says that he hasn’t helped Mister Vincent yet, he’s only been talking and drinking lemonade.

The job that Mister Vincent had in mind for Camille is revealed, however, when Mister Vincent shows the whole family the canvas he has been painting. It is a portrait of Camille. Camille stares in wonder at his own image and feels like he is looking into a mirror, only with many different colours. The reds, greens, blues and yellows that they had talked about are all captured in the painting.

Favorite Part of the Story:  In accordance with the theme of painting the book is a very visual one. The images of the train scooting across the train tracks and Camille looking into the pond and catching his own reflection are very striking. The images of Vincent’s yellow house are beautiful and it is nice to see it metamorphose into a green house, blue house and red house in quick succession. What is most delightful are the illustrations of Vincent, Camille and Camille’s father which are instantly recognizable from van Gogh’s paintings. Also not to be missed is the sneak peek into Vincent’s yellow house drawing room, which is filled with canvases of van Gogh’s most memorable creations.

Portrait of Camille Roulin, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Portrait of Camille Roulin, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

This is simply a lovely book to get your child excited about painting and coloring. A lovely introduction to van Gogh. The story is insightful and the illustrations stellar. Don’t miss the opportunity of opening up this delightful book.

Portrait of the Postman, Joseph Roulin (1841-1903), MFA,Boston

Portrait of the Postman, Joseph Roulin (1841-1903), MFA,Boston

Incidentally, the Camille from the book ‘Vincent and Camille’ is Camille Roulin, a small boy of the Roulin family, van Gogh was friendly with during his time in Arles. Camille’s father is Joseph Roulin, postmaster, depicted in several of van Gogh’s memorable paintings, one of which is displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  Van Gogh painted multiple portraits of each of the members of the Roulin family. The portrait of Camille, aged 11, described in this book hangs in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and is entitled ‘Portrait of Camille Roulin’, 1888.

Many thanks to BudgetTraveller and frommadeiratomars for picking up this  book for Little M from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Leaving you with some beautiful postcard images of van Gogh’s works.

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‘We’re of to see the Lizard, the wonderful Lizard of Oz’ and a Library Haul from Week 23 of 2015

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I never grew up watching the Wizard of Oz although I did read the book or its abridged version at least. Neither do I recall watching many of the popular Disney movies. This just may be my poor memory. I was always more interested in reading books….deriving a first-hand experience of a story…figuring out the dramatization in my imagination rather than have it delivered to me by an on-screen production.

The first decade or so of my life was spent in England during the 1980s.  I recall watching cartoons on television. The old fashioned ones with a mouse and a cat. Inspector Gadget… Scooby Doo…Fraggle Rock… Postman Pat…the Muppet Show. Basically we watched whatever was shown on television. Somehow, Dorothy, the Emerald City and the sparkling red shoes escaped my attention.

Still despite this fact, it is hard not to be aware of the story… The Wizard of Oz, the book and the movie have forever sparked the popular imagination.

When you have children you are allowed to live a second childhood of sorts. You are permitted to watch all the movies you missed as a child… to indulge your adult curiosity with childlike fancies. To pretend that you have ordered the Wizard of Oz to ‘educate’ your child when you want to watch it yourself with undiluted attention and evaluate it as an adult.

The Wizard of Oz unfailingly delivers. There is something very captivating about the story. Despite not being as visually stunning as the modern productions, the songs, the story, the unique characters created by L. Frank Baum make this a movie worthy of re-watching.

We will definitely not forget this movie especially as my three year old has created a memorable spin-off of the title tune , quite unintentionally…

We’re off to see the lizard, the wonderful lizard of Oz

She will thank me later for posting this on the Internet  I think!

Also pictured in the library haul:

1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die: this is a lovely coffee table book to leaf through. Mostly filled with beautiful snapshots of enviable gardens.

Watercolor Landscapes: this book is an excellent primer, teaching you how to convert a very ordinary natural landscape to a beautiful watercolor. The trick mostly lies in visually editing out unnecessary elements that do not add to the romantic appeal of a scene. Like signposts, electric cables, rundown cars by the wayside etcetera.

50 Shades of Grey: the less said about this the better. I wish I had spent those two hours doing something else…

The Theory of Everything: haven’t watched this one yet but can’t wait to see it.

Goodnight Moon: This may be the second or third time we have borrowed this from the library. I love the visual effects in this story. How the depicted bedroom and its interiors transition from light… to dark…to sleep and inaction.

Have a happy week dear readers. Can’t wait to do some reading this weekend.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

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Title: I Want My Hat Back

Author and Illustrator: Jon Klassen

Published: 2011

Main Characters: A bear, a rabbit, a pointed red hat and several woodland characters.

Short Synopsis of the Story: A bear has lost his hat. He politely asks several woodland creatures that he passes whether they have seen his hat or not. One particular woodland character, a rabbit (wearing a pointed red hat) rather strongly denies that he has stolen the hat and quickly dismisses the bear. Later on the bear rather sadly lies down on the ground and worries he may never see his hat again. One woodland creature comes up to him and asks him what the hat looks like. The bear says it is red and pointed and only then is struck with the thought that he has seen the hat recently on someones’s head! He travels back to the rabbit and accuses him of stealing the hat.

Next we see the bear sitting down with the hat back on his head. A passing squirrel asks the bear if he has seen a rabbit. The bear protests very loudly that he has neither seen nor eaten a rabbit. He asks the squirrel not to ask him anymore questions.

Conclusion: I enjoyed the part of the story where the rabbit and the bear protest too loudly especially when they are in the wrong. This made me laugh. However, the fact that the bear had eaten up the rabbit to retrieve his hat was a hard story to deliver to my three year old. When I told her, she very aptly responded with,”Did he need to eat the rabbit up?”

Did he indeed?

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

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Title: The Story of Ferdinand

Author: Munro Leaf

Illustrator: Robert Lawson

Published: 1936

Main Characters: Ferdinand the bull.

Short Synopsis of the Story: The story is set in Spain. Ferdinand the bull is a placid creature. When his fellow bulls are busy playing aggressive games and fighting with one another, nothing pleases Ferdinand more than to sit  quietly by himself and enjoy the scent of the flowers. One day when Ferdinand is much older, several men arrive form Madrid to pick a bull for the fighting. They try to pick the most aggressive bull. On that particular day Ferdinand gets stung by a bee and jumps up and down like crazy. The men from Madrid think he will be the perfect bull for the bullfight and pack him into a cart to be taken to Madrid. On the day of the bullfight, the stadium is packed with excited onlookers. The Banderilleros, Picadores and Matadors enter the stadium and are shivering with anticipation and fear. At last Ferdinand emerges into the ring and to everyones surprise sits down quietly and sniffs the fragrance of the flowers in the ladies’ hair. There is no bull fight that day and Ferdinand is escorted back home where he continues to lead a peaceful life.

Favorite Part of the Story: The message of non- violence is an important one to be taught to children from an early age but I think the concept of bull fighting was beyond the scope of my three year olds understanding. Nevertheless, a worthwhile read to go back to in a couple of years I think.

Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban

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Little M and I are working our way slowly but steadily though the Time Magazine’s Top 100 books for Children. We particularly enjoyed Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban.

Title: Bread and Jam for Frances

Author: Russell Hoban

Illustrator: Lillian Hoban

Published: 1986

Main Characters: Frances (the Badger), Mother Badger, Father Badger, baby sister Gloria and schoolfriend Albert.

Short Synopsis of Story: Frances the Badger is a picky eater. When her Mother gives her eggs for breakfast she chooses to eat her favourite food- bread and jam instead. She prefers to eat the same for dinner that night in lieu of breaded veal cutlets with string beans and baked potatoes. In fact, Frances is so in love with bread and jam that she exchanges her school lunch of chicken salad sandwich for bread and jam.

Her parents decide to teach her a lesson. The next day for breakfast, lunch and dinner Frances is given nothing but bread and jam. Faced with no alternative Frances comes to the conclusion that although she loves bread and jam she does not want to eat it at every meal.

The turning point comes when at dinner that night Frances cries and asks for spaghetti and meatballs instead of bread and jam.

Favourite Part of the Story: The illustrations in this book are just adorable. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of food in this story. Especially the section where Frances’s friend Albert unpacks his elaborate lunch at his school desk and eats every part of it with great relish.

He took a bite of sandwich, a bite of pickle, a bite of hardboiled egg, and a drink of milk. Then he sprinkled more salt on the egg and went around again… He ate his bunch of grapes and his tangerine…He set the cup custard in the middle of the napkin on his desk… He shut his lunch box, put it back inside his desk, and sighed. “I like to have a good lunch,” said Albert.

Conclusion: My three year old loved the story and kept pointing to the pictures asking to hear about the food descriptions again and again. Four out of five stars.