Monday, March 07, 2011

I Missed Read-Across-America Day

I'm trying to blog once a week at least. I think I used to have a lot more time in my schedule for it, but it's still not something I'm wanting to give up. Normally I would have blogged about Read-Across-America Day (March 2), but I just couldn't fit it in that day.

If you don't know already, it's on Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss's birthday. Now I will say upfront, of course I love Dr. Seuss. I love his droll artwork and nonsensical words and his subversive little plots about love, life, happiness, and nuclear war. But I will also say as a mom, I got so sleepy and borderline irritated, reading his books aloud. For crying in a bucket, Sam-I-am, just try the dumb green eggs and ham already so we can close this book and get to bed.

I used to sit and hold both babies on my lap and read to them. Then when Lucy got a little bigger, she sat next to me, and Elaine sat on my lap. Now there's not room for all three of us in the rocking chair, so every night they crawl in their twin beds while I sit and read a chapter (or two or three) from whichever book we're reading.

Since Elaine turned 5 on her birthday, I decided it was time for both girls to hear the book from which Elaine got her name. When I was a little girl, both my parents read aloud to us all the time, but my dad read two books in particular that really shaped my personality and thinking for the rest of my life. One, of course, was Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, from which Lucy got her name. The other is a much lesser known book, Rainbow Garden by Patricia St. John, and that's where we got Elaine's name.

It's about a young girl, Elaine, in London whose mother takes a job in Paris so Elaine is sent to North Wales to live with a minister, his wife, and their six children. Elaine is lonely and unhappy, but eventually she opens her heart first, to the Welsh countryside, to the Owen family, and eventually to Jesus Christ. Of course, being a children's book, there is plenty of adventure, a robbery, and an exciting conclusion, too.

My mom made story quilts of both Lucy and Elaine's books, and one of my good memories from last summer at the hospice was the last day or so my mom was alive, I brought both girls' quilts and spread them out in her room. Everyone who worked there came in at some point during the day to admire the beautiful quilts, and they touched my mom's unconscious face and held her hands and told her what an artist she was.
Both girls loved hearing Rainbow Garden, but if you decide to read it, make sure you get an unabridged version. Around the year 2000, Moody Press released new versions of St. John's books since many of them had gone out of print; however, they "updated" and abridged them to sad results. For example, one of the best scenes from Rainbow Garden is Elaine's first Easter morning in Wales. I don't have an exact quote from the new version, but it's basically, "They all went to church and stood in the Easter sunlight, singing and joyful." Whereas the original version goes like this (I remember this even from when I was a little kid): "The church was overflowing with people and full of Easter flowers. the communion Table was a mass of huge daffodil trumpets, white blossom, and tulips, and the choir and congregation rose to their feet and sang as only the Welsh can sing--Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!

We finished Rainbow Garden last week and have started on a completely different book.

I have my old, old, old copy that my mom read to my brother and me when we were little. We would crawl in her bed with her, and she would read to us while my dad was out teaching night classes. My dad worked all day and then taught at Wheaton College in the evenings to pay for our schooling. At the time, I thought he just did it because he enjoyed it.

Anyway, we would pile in with Mom, and she would read all manner of books, but this is one of the ones I remember and love the most. When this book was first published in England (in 1958), it was released under the title The Chimneys of Green Knowe. It's the second book in the Green Knowe series (I think there are at least five books). Despite the new cover art and this alternate title, the contents of the books have been kept the same.

This is the story of Tolly Oldknow, a boy in boarding school who spends his vacations with his great-grandmother at their family estate. He discovers as he stays there, that there are "others" inhabiting the house also--his ancestors. Other than that, I don't want to give away much of the story.

Last fall, in the UK, there was a movie called "From Time to Time" (it was just released on DVD) that is based on this book. The script was written by Julian Fellowes, who wrote Gosford Park and my winter addiction, Downton Abbey. It stars Alex Etel as Tolly, Maggie Smith as his great-grandmother Oldknow, and Hugh Bonneville as Captain Oldknow (one of the "others").

We haven't seen the movie yet because we want to finish the book first, but I've watched a couple of clips. I know it will be somewhat different, so I'm going to try and judge the book and film as separate entities. (Already, Alex Etel is much older than Tolly in the book.)

Here's a preview:

So, that's our Read-Across-America. I highly recommend both these books and am always looking for more good new things to read--so give me your ideas!

1 comment:

The Farmer's Wife said...

I've tried twice to comment on this post and end up with tears...and everyone knows it's nearly impossibly to type that way.

The quilt, Alice...and the books that hold the treasure of inspiration for those precious incredibly poignant and beautiful!

Do you remember, in the movie "You've Got Mail", the line Meg Ryan said about books?
"The books you read in your childhood become part of your soul like nothing else in life."

Thanks for this post. I'm still sniffly, because, of course, I love books and I adore you and I know the story.

Let's have tea, SOON!