A River

A River by Marc Martin came out in March 2017, and when it came out I snagged it at first sight from The Children’s Book Shop. At the time, though, I thought the Changeling was a bit young to appreciate it, and it slept nicely on a shelf until I hit a cracking point this week and needed a gentle, beautiful book to help me out a bit. A River did that beautifully, and today, after yet another day of terrible news (please consider first reading this and then donating here) I’m going to tell you about it in case it helps you, too.

A River.jpg

I encourage you to come to this book as you would to a work of art: the words are muted, gentle guides, but the true story comes through the art. A small child sits at the window, looking out to the river. The river stretches off to the distance, and the child pictures a little silver boat on the river. The boat carries the child, exploring wherever the river takes them. Off they go by cities, through jungles, over a stormy sea, and, finally, back home. The story is soft without being flaccid, and it has a core of great strength– the river itself– carrying the reader from beginning to end.

As I said, the art does the brunt of the storytelling, and it does so largely by atmosphere. Everything, from the cover and the endpapers to the story pages themselves, is marked by undulating curves and suffused with a variety of watery colours (unsurprisingly, the art is done in watercolours as well as gouache, pencils, and digital collage). As for the story pages, the opening of the child’s room is full of lush but muted, almost vintage, detail. Toys are scattered, a cat stands behind the child-artist’s chair, and various plants and decorations mark the walls and bookshelves. Then, as you turn the pages, these details come back… the toy car beside the bookcase anticipates the traffic in the city, the horse returns in a farm scene, the toucan in the jungle. Not all details map perfectly to full-page spreads as the river coils on, but there’s plenty to engage the eye– and the eye is busily engaged because the further the river flows from the city, the more luscious the landscape.

This is what I mean when I say to approach the book as artwork: first, because the art is so lush and so dynamic that it really does do the brunt of the storytelling; second, because it’s just so beautiful that turning the pages without being distracted by many words elicits both emotional and rational thought: “Vivid–deep–dangerous” might be the sequence of instinctive responses as you go from jungle during the day to jungle at night to sailing through the mangroves. And that tells you something, emotionally as well as intellectually.

As for me? My chief response, oddly, was peace. Sure, there’s a lot going on beyond peacefulness: the animals in the jungle are surely dangerous, and the stormy seas certainly aren’t peaceful, but relinquishing rational, analytical thought for a moment and allowing my mind just to pulse with responses to beautiful art– that’s peaceful, just like the quiet thoughtfulness of a museum (I wonder: did Delacroix paint a single peaceful painting in his life?), or that moment in between the end of a concert (be it Bach or Berlioz) and the beginning of the applause.

This is, simply put, a beautiful book, an art book. If children had coffee tables, this would be a good coffee table book for children. And if you need a quiet space around your child’s bedtime, this is the book I recommend. Take your time flipping the pages, and let your child prattle on about what they see; after all, they’re the ones voyaging on a little silver boat along the river with the child telling the story… and then coming back to go to bed. Sweet dreams.

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Shelter Giveaway over!

Dear Readers,

The giveaway is over, and I’ve emailed the winner, so if you donated you should check your email!

I want to thank you for everything: for caring about this pressing issue, for your donations, for your notes and your thoughts, for your willingness to stand up against what is wrong and for embracing what is positive and helpful, and, above all, for letting me do my bit to help out. I wish I could send books to each and every one of you!

Thank you all, and check back later for some more beautiful books. I have one beside my laptop right now which I think you’ll all love.

Charity Giveaway Reminder

Hi, folks,

Your emails and entries into the Shelter Charity Giveaway have been so heartening: every little note has been meaningful to me, because each of you is the power in this giveaway.

Giving someone a book doesn’t help the children and families at the border; your donations to RAICES or the ACLU absolutely do.

You can still enter until 12 noon on Friday, July 20 by donating and then emailing me at deborah@childrensbookroom.com. And please do share this information with your family and friends: word of mouth is the best way to reach people, and I’ve gotten some lovely notes from friends of readers of the blog saying that this was the push they needed to donate.

Thank you again and again for your generosity, your donations, and for spreading good in a world which sorely needs it.

Deborah

Shelter Charity Giveaway

Dear Readers, it’s time for another giveaway here at the Children’s Bookroom! In the past, we’ve had giveaways either just because I liked a given book, or because I was given one for free, or in response to a troubling event– but I haven’t done a charity giveaway, and I think the time has come for that.

The impetus for this giveaway is that in the face of separating children from their families, losing track of them, and detaining parents and families in detention centres, I think (as ever) the response is to read books with our children which teach us to be kind, welcome the stranger, and share what you have. Let’s make sure the next generation is kinder, warmer, and more welcoming than we are. So I will be asking you to give to a charity which is standing up for sheltering the stranger, and, in return, I will give one of you a book which promotes the values of kindness, compassion, and welcoming those in need.

Which book called to me over this matter? Shelter, by Céline Claire, illustrated by Qin Leng, and one of my favourite books from 2017 (well done, Kids Can Press!).

Shelter

What are the rules? They are very simple:

1) Anyone can participate, no matter where they live; I will pay shipping worldwide. As in other giveaways, I hold that books know no boundaries!
2) To enter, the participant would simply make a donation in any amount to RAICES or the ACLU and email me that they have done so at deborah@childrensbookroom.com. I do not need to see your receipt: I trust you not to scam a giveaway about generosity and kindness.
3) This must be done between when I post the rules and Friday, July 20 at 12 noon EST.
At 12 noon July 20, I will use a random number generator to choose the winner and will email the winner to get their address. Donating more or less won’t affect the process; I know everyone will donate what they can, and that’s wonderful.
Questions? Email me at deborah@childrensbookroom.com. I know that you will share this widely and encourage your friends and family to donate as well. Let’s turn a grim situation into light and kindness to come.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

Hear and attend and listen, oh my Best Belov– whoops! Sorry, folks, just been reading lots of Just So Stories with the Changeling! (We’ll talk about them another day– I’d forgotten both how wonderful they are, and how much of Kipling’s racism permeates even these pretty innocent stories.)

But today we’re going to talk (relatively briefly) about another set of books: do you remember my first Saturdays post? In it I mention Maryrose Wood’s series The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place? We began, way back then, with The Mysterious Howling, in which we’re introduced to the Incorrigibles, their governess (Penelope Lumley), and their home at Ashton Place. I noted then that they both played with the conventions of the Gothic and of Victoriana, but without taking themselves seriously. There was, for example, never any doubt of a happy ending.

Ashton Place.jpg

I admit freely that I had concerns about this final volume. I was worried that the mysteries had mounted up so high that the grand finale would be completely impossible to pull off without losing the lighthearted tone of the first five books: would it get sad and scary and– horror of horrors!– serious? In hindsight, I have no idea why I worried. Maryrose Wood had kept a consistent tone running through five novels even while the stakes got higher and higher; why would her skillful lightheartedness suddenly fall apart in the last book?

I won’t spoil the read for you by detailing every example of her beautiful balancing act between humour and an intense plot, but here are a few points to watch out for: Penelope’s harrowing escape from Plinkst, Russia (don’t feel stupid if you’ve never heard of Plinkst– it’s delightfully fictional, thank God); a ride against time in a balloon with an old friend; and a final, brilliantly dramatic seance in which– well, I can’t tell you that, can I?

But what you really want to know, I’m sure, is this: Now that I’ve finished the series, what do I think of it as a whole? And should you, new to the series, start it now that you can finish it? Is it worth reading the whole shebang?

My thoughts on the series as a whole are these: As I said above, it’s beautifully balanced between maintaining an intense plot while at the same time never falling into grim, gritty, noir drama. You will never stop smiling as you read. You will never feel worried that the next page will plunge you into melancholy.

But I worry that you think this means that the books are empty, frivolous tales; they aren’t. You consistently think, as you read, about questions of good parenting, loyalty, friendship, child-rearing, and, generally, good behaviour. You think about what it takes to be a good person, and why it is that we so love Penelope and the Incorrigibles. They just make you laugh as you think.

The only situation the series avoids is testing your thoughts by presenting the alternative: there is no use of horror to make us appreciate the gentleness on the other side. Drama, yes. Theatrics, definitely. Just no horror or darkness.

In point of fact, the closest adult equivalent might be P. G. Wodehouse: there’s the same sense of eyes twinkling behind the text, just waiting for the next page to bring you to laughter, while at the same time holding you in suspense as you await the next plot twist. The difference is that whereas P. G. Wodehouse generally hangs out with the wealthy and (affectionately) teases their excesses, Maryrose Woods, despite the wealth of the Ashtons, focuses her affections on the hard-working Penelope and her precariously situated students, the Incorrigibles. We are delighted with their ingenuity and how they maintain life and security as the world teeters around them.

So, if you’re looking for ease from these tempestuous times, I can strongly recommend these books. They’re wholesome, heartening, and funny. They’ll give you respite from harsh reality, but never, ever lose track of what’s really important in life: love and respect for one another.

And let me tell you this, too: if your reading time is limited, these are fantastic, absolutely brilliant. You can read each of these in a few hours, and while there’s a certain amount of suspense, you really can space them out without biting your nails to find out “what happens next?” Altogether, I cannot think of better summer reading. So go forth and read!