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Books for Springtime

I have always been a seasonal reader to an extent – particularly, it must be said, when it comes to Christmas-themed books – but I feel that my reading choices have been aligned more with the seasons in the last tumultuous year. Connecting my reading with the natural world around me has given me a sense of calm whilst the world has reached such a point of crisis, and picking up a seasonally themed book has become rather a soothing task. With this in mind, I wanted to collect together eight books which I feel will be perfect picks for spring, and which I hope you will want to include in your own reading journeys.

These books are best enjoyed with hot cross buns, birdsong, and long walks in the countryside

1. The Nature of Spring by Jim Crumley

‘Spring marks the genesis of nature’s year. As Earth’s northern hemisphere tilts ever more towards the life-giving sun, the icy, dark days of winter gradually yield to the new season’s intensifying light and warmth. Nature responds… For our flora and fauna, for the very land itself, this is the time of rebirth and rejuvenation – although, as Jim Crumley attests, spring in the Northlands is no Wordsworthian idyll. Climate chaos and its attendant unpredictable weather brings high drama to the lives of the animals he observes – the badgers, seals and foxes, the seabirds and the raptors. But there is also a wild, elemental beauty to the highlands and islands, a sense of nature in animation during this, the most transformative of seasons. Jim chronicles it all: the wonder, the tumult, the spectacle of spring.’

2. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

‘When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle’s great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors. The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary’s only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?’

3. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

‘A discreet advertisement in ‘The Times’, addressed to ‘Those who Apppreciate Wisteria and Sunshine…’ is the impetus for a revelatory month for four very different women. High above the bay on the Italian Riviera stands San Salvatore, a mediaeval castle. Beckoned to this haven are Mrs. Wilkins, Mrs Arbuthnot, Mrs Fisher and Lady Caroline Dester, each quietly craving a respite. Lulled by the Mediterranean spirit, they gradually shed their skins and discover a harmony each of them has longed for but never known. First published in 1922 and reminscient of ‘Elizabeth and her German Garden’, this delightful novel is imbued with the descriptive power and light-hearted irreverence for which Elizabeth von Arnin is renowned.’

4. Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively

‘Penelope Lively has always been a keen gardener. This book is partly a memoir of her own life in gardens: the large garden at home in Cairo where she spent most of her childhood, her grandmother’s garden in a sloping Somerset field, then two successive Oxfordshire gardens of her own, and the smaller urban garden in the North London home she lives in today. It is also a wise, engaging and far-ranging exploration of gardens in literature, from Paradise Lost to Alice in Wonderland, and of writers and their gardens, from Virginia Woolf to Philip Larkin.’

5. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

‘”Now, my dears,” said old Mrs Rabbit one morning, “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden.” But what does Peter Rabbit do? Beatrix Potter’s delightful ‘Tale of Peter Rabbit’ tells the story.’

6. Spring: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons by Melissa Harrison

‘It is a time of awakening. In our ­fields, hedgerows and woodlands, our beaches, cities and parks, an almost imperceptible shift soon becomes a riot of sound and colour: winter ends, and life surges forth once more. Whether in town or country, we all share in this natural rhythm, in the joy and anticipation of the changing year. In prose and poetry both old and new, Spring mirrors the unfolding of the season, inviting us to see what’s around us with new eyes. Featuring original writing by Rob Cowen, Miriam Darlington and Stephen Moss, classic extracts from the work of George Orwell, Clare Leighton and H. E. Bates, and fresh new voices from across the UK, this is an original and inspiring collection of nature writing that brings the British springtime to life in all its vivid glory.’

7. The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald

‘From the Booker Prize-winning author of ‘Offshore’, ‘The Blue Flower’ and ‘Innocence’ comes this Booker Prize-shortlisted tale of a troubled Moscow printworks. Frank Reid had been born and brought up in Moscow. His father had emigrated there in the 1870s and started a print-works which, by 1913, had shrunk from what it was when Frank inherited it. In that same year, to add to his troubles, Frank’s wife Nellie caught the train back home to England, without explanation. How is a reasonable man like Frank to cope? How should he keep his house running? Should he consult the Anglican chaplain’s wife? Should he listen to the Tolstoyan advice of his chief book-keeper? How do people live together, and what happens when, sometimes, they don’t?’

8. Spring Morning by Frances Darwin Cornford (my own review)

‘I love discovering new poets, and came across this title at the back of Charlotte Mew’s Saturday Market. Published in 1918, this is a relatively short collection, made up of just 17 poems. It is complete with charming woodcuts. Whilst I found a couple of these poems quite odd, Cornford’s nature writing throughout is lovely.

I have chosen to copy out the entirety of ‘Autumn Morning at Cambridge’, which made me feel rather homesick for my home city:

I ran out in the morning, when the air was clean and new,
And all the grass was glittering, and grey with autumn dew.
I ran out to the apple tree and pulled an apple down,
And all the bells were ringing in the old grey town.

Down in the town, off the bridges and the grass
They are sweeping up the leaves to let the people pass,
Sweeping up the old leaves, golden-reds and browns,
While the men go to lectures with the wind in their gowns.’

Please stay tuned for subsequent summer, autumn, and winter recommendation posts, which will be published at the beginning of each new season. Also, let me know if you have any seasonal reads to recommend!

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Books to Read Aloud

I have been thinking about reading aloud of late, particularly as last year, I shared the odd poem from Allie Esiri’s A Poem for Every Night of the Year with my boyfriend.  Prior to this, I had done very little reading aloud since leaving my taught University classes, and realised that it is something I really miss.  With that in mind, I thought it would be a nice idea to curate a list of some of the books which I have most enjoyed reading aloud in the past.  Given the nature of this list, they are almost all children’s books, as I did most of my reading aloud in groups whilst in junior school.  Regardless, picking one up and reading it aloud is sure to charm any child, or to make you feel very nostalgic indeed.

 

10333461. Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
‘When Michael is washed up on an island in the Pacific after falling from his parent’s yacht, the Peggy Sue, he struggles to survive on his own. But he soon realises there is someone close by, someone who is watching over him and helping him to stay alive. Following a close-run battle between life and death after being stung by a poisonous jelly fish, the mysterious someone–Kensuke–allows Michael into his world and they become friends, teaching and learning from each other, until the day of separation becomes inevitable.  Morpurgo here spins a yarn which gently captures the adventurous elements one would expect from a desert-island tale, but the real strength lies in the poignant and subtle observations of friendship, trust and, ultimately, humanity.’

 

2. Matilda by Roald Dahl 109019
‘Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she’s knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she’s a super-nerd and the teacher’s pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda’s world. For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there’s the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Miss (“The”) Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.  She warms up with some practical jokes aimed at her hapless parents, but the true test comes when she rallies in defense of her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, against the diabolical Trunchbull. There is never any doubt that Matilda will carry the day. Even so, this wonderful story is far from predictable. Roald Dahl, while keeping the plot moving imaginatively, also has an unerring ear for emotional truth. The reader cares about Matilda because in addition to all her other gifts, she has real feelings.’

 

161011153. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
‘One starry night, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell lead the three Darling children over the rooftops of London and away to Neverland – the island where lost boys play, mermaids splash and fairies make mischief. But a villainous-looking gang of pirates lurk in the docks, led by the terrifying Captain James Hook. Magic and excitement are in the air, but if Captain Hook has his way, before long, someone will be walking the plank and swimming with the crocodiles…’

 

4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett 231815
‘When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle’s great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.  The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary’s only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?’

 

10451495. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
‘Narnia… the land beyond the wardrobe, the secret country known only to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy…the place where the adventure begins. Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the professor’s mysterious old house. At first, no one believes her when she tells of her adventures in the land of Narnia. But soon Edmund and then Peter and Susan discover the Magic and meet Aslan, the Great Lion, for themselves. In the blink of an eye, their lives are changed forever.’

 

6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss 113946
‘Dr. Seuss’s small-hearted Grinch ranks right up there with Scrooge when it comes to the crankiest, scowling holiday grumps of all time. For 53 years, the Grinch has lived in a cave on the side of a mountain, looming above the Whos in Whoville. The noisy holiday preparations and infernal singing of the happy little citizens below annoy him to no end. The Grinch decides this frivolous merriment must stop. His “wonderful, awful” idea is to don a Santa outfit, strap heavy antlers on his poor, quivering dog Max, construct a makeshift sleigh, head down to Whoville, and strip the chafingly cheerful Whos of their Yuletide glee once and for all.  Looking quite out of place and very disturbing in his makeshift Santa get-up, the Grinch slithers down chimneys with empty bags and stealing the Whos’ presents, their food, even the logs from their humble Who-fires. He takes the ramshackle sleigh to Mt. Crumpit to dump it and waits to hear the sobs of the Whos when they wake up and discover the trappings of Christmas have disappeared. Imagine the Whos’ dismay when they discover the evil-doings of Grinch in his anti-Santa guise. But what is that sound? It’s not sobbing, but singing! Children simultaneously adore and fear this triumphant, twisted Seussian testimonial to the undaunted cheerfulness of the Whos, the transcendent nature of joy, and of course, the growth potential of a heart that’s two sizes too small.  This holiday classic is perfect for reading aloud to your favorite little Who’s.’

 

4753397. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
‘Madeline is one of the best-loved characters in children’s literature. Set in picturesque Paris, this tale of a brave little girl’s trip to the hospital was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1940 and has as much appeal today as it did then. The combination of a spirited heroine, timelessly appealing art, cheerful humor, and rhythmic text makes Madeline a perennial favorite with children of all ages.’

 

8. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter 19321
‘In this original edition, Peter and his sisters are told to go gather blackberries and not to go into MacGregor’s garden because Peter’s father was made into a pie by MacGregor after being found in the garden. Peter, who is wearing a new coat, promptly disobeys his mother, stuffs himself with vegetables, gets spotted by MacGregor, loses his coat and barely makes it out of the garden alive. When Peter gets home, he is given chamomile tea for dinner. Peter’s sisters, who listened to their mother and stayed out of the forbidden garden have a regular dinner.’

 

63199. The BFG by Roald Dahl
‘Captured by a giant! The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly. It’s lucky for Sophie that he is. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giants-rather than the BFG-she would have soon become breakfast.  When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off in England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!’

 

10. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 14942
Mrs. Dalloway chronicles a June day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway –a day that is taken up with running minor errands in preparation for a party and that is punctuated, toward the end, by the suicide of a young man she has never met. In giving an apparently ordinary day such immense resonance and significance–infusing it with the elemental conflict between death and life–Virginia Woolf triumphantly discovers her distinctive style as a novelist. Originally published in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway is Woolf’s first complete rendering of what she described as the “luminous envelope” of consciousness: a dazzling display of the mind’s inside as it plays over the brilliant surface and darker depths of reality.’

 

Which is your favourite book or poem to read aloud?

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Favourite Illustrations

I thought I would produce a post for today which was a little less taxing than having to read through an entire review, and focus instead on that which has been largely neglected on The Literary Sisters to date – that of the humble illustration.  I must admit that I still love books with pictures in them, even as an adult and a PhD researcher.  When I flip open the pages of a Persephone book and see lovely illustrations alongside the text, I delight a little.  There is just something so charming about them.

Without further ado, I am going to post ten of my favourite book illustrations.  I hope you enjoy this veering away from the literary!

 

1. John Teniell‘s iconic interpretation of Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland

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2. E.H. Shepard‘s delightful images in A.A. Milne‘s Winnie the Pooh (and friends)

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3. Carson Ellis‘ wonderful drawings in husband Colin Meloy‘s Wildwood Chronicles series

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4. Ludwig Bemelmans‘ adorable redhead, Madeline

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5. The Moomins by my beloved Tove Jansson

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6. The lovely Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

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7. Beatrix Potter‘s whimsical animals

The Mice Sewing the Mayor's Coat circa 1902 by Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943

 

8. Quentin Blake‘s wonderful depiction of Roald Dahl‘s Matilda

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9. Mary Cicely Barker‘s Flower Fairies, which enchanted me throughout childhood

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10. Pauline Baynes‘ stunning drawings in C.S. LewisChronicles of Narnia series

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There are no great surprises here, I’m sure!  Which are your favourite illustrations?  Have I featured any of them here?

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Sunday Snapshot: Childhood Favourites (#15-#11)

15. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
I still adore The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so much so that I have a Hungry Caterpillar mug and badge set, which were purchased for me quite recently.  The story is simple but the illustrations make it incredibly memorable.

14. The Lottie Project by Jacqueline Wilson
One of my absolute favourite Wilson books.  I love the mixture of present and past here, and Charlotte and Lottie are both marvellously drawn characters.

13. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter
It was incredibly difficult for me to choose a favourite from Potter’s delightful tales, but Mrs Tiggy-Winkle has stuck with me forever.  I adore her as a character, and am sure that I will even enjoy this book when I’m well into my old age.

12. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
Tigers have always been my favourite animals, and I adore afternoon tea and tea parties, so this was obviously going to rank amongst my favourites.

11. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
Utterly delightful in its entirety, and no childhood is complete without reading the compendium.

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Flash Reviews (8th August 2013)

Henry VIII by William Shakespeare
This year, I have been reading my way through The Collected Works of William Shakespeare. My second scheduled play for July was Henry VIII. I was rather skeptical about beginning it, as I had to read Richard III for my studies at school and very much disliked the experience. However, I was pleasantly surprised here. Whilst it isn’t my favourite Shakespearean work by any means, Henry VIII is very well written, as Shakespeare’s plays invariably are. I must admit that I was expecting more to happen, but it was entertaining enough to fill a couple of hours.

The Return of The Soldier by Rebecca West
I very much enjoyed The Fountain Overflows when I read it last year, and couldn’t wait to read more of West’s fiction. I loved the way in which The Return of The Soldier launched straight into the story, and the fact that questions were raised in my mind from the very first page. I adore West’s descriptions, particularly those of her surroundings. She really does use colour and light magnificently. The sense of place and time has been captured wonderfully, as has the passing of years for the characters. She portrays the horrors of war with such startling starkness, and these passages act as a wonderful if horrid contrast to her descriptions. Shell shock and memory loss were captured sensitively, and with such care. Jenny’s narrative voice in this lovely novella was wonderful, and it matched the unfolding story so well. The relationships between characters, and the way in which they shift and adapt with time, have been deftly and believably portrayed. A beautiful novella, and one of the loveliest I’ve ever read.

Peacock Pie: A Book of Rhymes by Walter de la Mare
April’s love for de la Mare’s poetry has made me consider him amongst my favourite poets, a high accolade indeed. Peacock Pie is an adorable collection, and I wish I had known about it when I was younger, as I imagine that it would have been a firm favourite of mine. De la Mare writes beautifully, and it is clear that he had such admiration for and love of the English language. I love his plays on words and rhyme schemes.

Beatrix Potter: A Holiday Diary, edited by Judy Taylor
My boyfriend and I visited a marvellous bookshop in Cambridge for the first time last Monday. We have been coveting a visit to it for ages, but each time we’ve woven down the little side alley to go there, it has been closed. Imagine my delight last week when we found that not only was it open, and crammed from floor to ceiling with all wonders of new, secondhand and antiquarian books, but that it had an entire shelf of beautiful books by and about Beatrix Potter. This was one of the Potterish purchases I made, the other being a gorgeous hardback of her collected letters. I could happily have bought them all, but I doubt I would have been able to carry them out of the shop, let alone to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant where we had lunch, and then back to the car after more shops had been visited. This volume is slight but extremely sweet, and I love the many pictures throughout. It is a real shame that nobody had thought to edit out the spelling mistakes though – Norman Warne’s name was, in one instance, ‘Normal’, for example. Regardless, I would certainly buy more books published by the Beatrix Potter Society. Even their lovely pastel colours just ooze charm.