Our mother-daughter book club recently elected to read this Newberry Award-winning 1965 historical novel. The reluctance registered by my fifteen-year-old, whose tastes incline heavily toward fantasy, was overridden by academically minded moms. But she soon found it much more interesting than she anticipated.
The 17th-century Spanish setting was, she said, so different as to seem almost another world. As the title suggests, the book is the fictional memoir of Juan de Pareja (1606–1670), an African slave inherited by Spanish court painter Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599–1660). The narrative devotes brief attention to Pareja’s early life, about which little is known. It then follows his journey into the household of Velazquez, who is soon summoned by King Philip IV of Spain to set up a studio in the palace.
Thrones, Dominations and A Presumption of Death, by Jill Paton Walsh (and Dorothy Sayers)
Though I’m not a Sayers expert, it seems to me Jill Paton Walsh carries off these post-Sayers Wimsey-Vane mysteries admirably. Sayers, it seems, lost interest in Thrones, Dominations after penning a partial manuscript and some notes. In 1986 the publisher approached Walsh with the manuscript, and she agreed to complete it. (Who wouldn’t?) The result is the first full-length work to pick up with Peter and Harriett’s married life in London. It follows Busman’s Honeymoon, set in Harriett’s hometown of Hertfordshire.
During WWII Sayers published some letters by members of the Wimsey family that provided the public with a glimpse of the Wimseys’ wartime life. These letters provided the inspiration as well as the opening chapters of A Presumption of Death. Harriett, her two children, her nephews, and a niece are back in Hertfordshire. Peter is on the continent doing (what else?) top-secret intelligence work. When a murder takes place during a village air raid, Harriett, of course, agrees to help with the investigation.
Several years ago my daughter and I read Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse (1946), said to be a childhood favorite of Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Goudge’s mix of whimsy, fantasy, and light-handed moralism intrigued me, as did her blend of Catholic and pagan imagery (not unlike C.S. Lewis’s employment of Greek mythology in The Chronicles of Narnia). Seeking more, I discovered Goudge (1900-1984) had written almost twenty adult novels, in addition to short stories and children’s books.
I decided on The Rosemary Tree (1954), a novel set in post-WWII England. As with Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, the protagonist is a mild-mannered minister–a kindhearted soul who doesn’t quite have a handle on family life. When a native son, back from the war, wanders onto the scene, John befriends him. Before long we learn this lost soul was once engaged to John’s wife.
Children seem to have a natural affinity for animals. Nothing excites my daughter more than a bouncy puppy–or a burly lab, for that matter. So far, in her 18 months of life, she has not evinced any fear of dogs, aside from a developing aversion to being licked in the face. (Lately she has shown a greater interest in the hindquarters than in the anterior portions of canines.) Her first word was “Woof!” Followed closely by “Grr!” “Quack!” “Baa!” “Neigh!” “Eee-ee-oo-oo!” (monkey) and “Tch-tch-tch!” (squirrel). She had an impressive repertoire of animal sounds long before she said “Mama” or “Daddy” with any consistency … we’re still waiting for our turn, in fact. We taught and rehearsed these performances in the beginning, but she now generates her own animal sounds based on real-life observations (along with the sound of a drill, sirens, the dryer, and sausage squealing in the microwave…I guess this could be construed as an animal sound in a morbid sort of way). (Keep reading, for an invitation to send in a story and get a free book.) Continue reading
Why are there so many children’s stories and songs about ducks? Ducklings are cute, but they’re not exactly cuddly. Supposedly you can get them to imprint and follow you around (like in “Fly Away Home”), but we recently discovered in our household that this is easier said than done. My sister persuaded me to co-invest in ducklings; I wanted eggs and she wanted pets. They didn’t imprint, though, and now we have five overgrown grain-fed teenagers of unknown gender that eat a lot of food, produce a lot of poop, and so far don’t give anything back (not to discount their contribution to the compost pile).
I must have bought this book for my sister sometime in the late ’80s, but the fact had been wiped from my memory until recently, when I ran across it in my parents’ home while looking for something to read to my daughter at bedtime. I find it remarkable that these whimsical poems reminiscent of Shel Silverstein could come from the author of such venerable and contemplative works as two series of poetic allegories (The Singer Trilogy and The Divine Symphony–which I have read) and The Table of Inwardness and Into the Depths of God (which I have not). Continue reading