Earthquake!

Title: Earthquake!
Author: Kathleen V. Kudlinski
Illustrator: Ronald Himler
Pages: 56
Recommended Ages: 8-12
Star Rating: ★★★★★

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Another book set during the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

The Story.

Phillip can’t sleep. He probably could if silly Buster would stop barking and the horses would settle down. As it is, Phillip figures he’d better go check on the horses. After all, something might be wrong down there, and it wouldn’t due to have his father’s livery business damaged.

Phillip makes his way to the stables. Nothing’s wrong – the horses are just spooked. Wonder why that could be? And the mice are acting strangely, too, dashing around and out into the street like a cat’s on their tails. Only there’s no cat. Strange…

Suddenly, the world tilts. Nothing’s where it ought to be – the walls and floors are all breaking up and the screams of frightened horses are filling the air.

What is happening? Will the horses be alright? And is this affecting the whole city???

Discussion.

I thought that the family relationships in Earthquake! were excellent. Take Phillip’s little brother, Chester, for instance; he’s the tiniest bit of a scalawag and occasionally annoying, but Phillip never treats him meanly or thinks negatively of him. Phillip’s mother cares very passionately for her family. Instead of breaking down when her home is destroyed, she hugs Phillip and tells him “Remember, darling. We are all safe… Nothing – nothing – else matters.” [pg. 20] Phillip’s father prioritizes moving the family to safety, but trusts enough in Phillip’s maturity to leave him behind to protect the family business. Phillip bears this responsibility capably.

After Phillip spent a tense night with the horses, his father returned and informs him that the fire is so close that they must abandon the horses and seek to save their own lives. Having already risked his life to have stayed with the horses this long, Phillip vehemently disagrees with his father’s plan, insisting that they try to save the horses. It’s said in this scene that Phillip ‘screamed’ at his father, but it is unclear whether this is out of anger, or if that is the only way he can make himself heard due to the proximity of the fire. Phillip ends up freeing all of the horses, shooing them out into the street, nearly causing a stampede, and eventually herding them all out of town with his father.

To give the readers an idea of how tough one boy, Bobby Hunt, is, Phillip describes him as “the Bobby Hunt who used words like gad! and Jehoshaphat! right in school. The Bobby Hunt who tied broken glass to his kite strings to cut off everybody else’s kites in the sky. The Bobby Hunt who kicked the blind cocker spaniel when he thought nobody was looking.” [pg. 16] Although formerly uninterested in getting to know Bobby because he was so unpleasant, Phillip makes an effort to be friendly when he learns that Bobby’s parents died in a fire. They become half-way friends.

When the fire is almost upon the stables, Phillip says ‘Great Scott!’ I personally don’t have a problem with this phrase, but the writer said that by using these words he ‘cursed’. Just so’s you know.

After the earthquake, the stairs collapse under Phillip’s father. When it does so, it is said that he used an oath, but no actual words are given.

Conclusion. Good. While The Earth Dragon Awakes gave a taste of the wider panic and destruction of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Earthquake! describes its effect on one family. Purchase a copy here.

A Gathering of Days

Title: A Gathering of Days
Author: Joan W. Blos
Pages: 144
Recommended Ages: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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Newbery…

The Story.

Due to her mother’s untimely death during child-birth, Catherine has been the mother and homemaker in her father’s house for the last four years.  Her typical duties include going to school, mending her family’s clothes, and tending to her younger sister, Matty. Catherine loves to spend time chatting with her friends and laughing over her Uncle Jack’s stories; her life is demanding but rewarding.

But the simplicity of her life is jolted one day when her missing writing book is returned to her with this plea scrawled across it: “PLEEZ MISS TAKE PITTY I AM COLD.” The note is from an escaped slave. Catherine is forced to struggle through the moral issue that is raised before her so abruptly: Is it right to aid a man in his unlawful escape from his master? If so, is it permissible to lie while giving that aid?

Praises.

The market of children’s literature teems with diaries which purport to be credible records of historical figures. While these books present historical facts, they do not seek to represent the true philosophical climate of the times. They distort history by casting a twenty-first century interpretation on the actions of a different culture.

A Gathering of Days was a refreshing example of a fictional diary that was written accurately and in the true spirit of its time. Joan W. Blos received the John Newbery Medal in 1980 for this work, and I believe that it was well-deserved for two reasons: Ms. Blos successfully imitated the style of nineteenth century writing, and she unabashedly included the Christianity which was prevalent in nineteenth century New England.

My praises for this book consist of two main categories.

1) Discipline and instruction. Throughout the book, Catherine’s father and step-mother provide moral guidance for Catherine. It is clear from her entries, that Catherine holds her father very high in esteem. For example, from her entry on November 7, 1830:

“Father believes, as he’s often said, that man’s intelligence is given to him that he may distinguish right from wrong, and knowing right, may do so. Some think him too severe in this. It is not that, it is honor.”

December 24, 1830:

When I came down to the kitchen this morning I discovered the following, deftly penned by Father: “It requires but little discernment to discover the imperfections of others; but much humility to acknowledge our own.”

Catherine’s father has just finished telling a story under August 18, 1831, when Catherine writes:

Silence followed the story’s end – the part when they are poor again, she having wished too high. In secret did I remember, then, that I myself had oft longed for wealth without the dint of labour. I am glad to have been set right by Father’s gentle instruction, the which I perceived in the tale.

I especially appreciated this bit about obedience. Catherine understands more about its goal than most parents do!

Mammann disciplined Matty today, M. having protested a favour that Mammann had asked. It was Mammann’s contention that, “You must learn to like the doing of that which we like you to do. Glad submission of the will,” she explained, “is the obedience that proves control. I do not mean you merely to comply. Reflect, accept, obey!”

How I used to struggle with Matty, and on this account. Discipline of will, not relinquishment, is the lesson’s desired end. How hard this is for each to learn, and how necessary.

2) Proper resolutions and Understanding. Catherine shows a great deal of maturity both in her actions and in her comprehension. Here are a few of her resolves:

Tuesday, October 19, 1830

This be the precept the teacher set out today:

……. Let thy words be plain and true to the thoughts of thy heart

These be the thoughts of my heart; that I may remain here for ever and ever: here in this house which my father has built with the labour of his two hands;

That no harm come to those I love: Father and my sister, Matty; Cassie, and the Shipman family; and Father’s brother, our Uncle Jack, who mills when he needs money, and never took a wife;

Also that I may train myself to want to do what I am asked to do.

On October 16, 1831, Catherine writes, “I have determined to read from the Bible; some lines every day.”

Catherine also shows an unusual amount of wisdom.

On March 25, 1831, Catherine included this quote in her entry:

“Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent.” – Dionysius, the Elder

On December 19, 1831, Catherine concludes,

“At the start of this journal I wrote of my wish to stay here for ever and ever; also that I wished to become better and more gladly able to do what I am asked. Today, reflecting on Aunt Lucy’s letter, I know I shall find good consequence in what ever is decided by Father and Mammann. Thus it now appears to me that trust, and not submission, defines obedience.”

Another challenge comes to Catherine in the form of a step-mother. This is not the typical scenario in which the child hates her step-mother and cannot be reconciled to her. Rather, it is the natural struggle of having a stranger installed in the intimacy of a home. There are no dramatic outbursts or moments of fury, only a slow familiarization. I was delighted by the warm relationship which eventually developed between the two.

Cautions.

Crushes are briefly mentioned in several diary entries.

Under March 28, 1831, it is noted that Teacher Holt kissed Cassie’s Aunt Lucy. They eventually marry.

Under April 1, 1831 (April Fool’s Day), Catherine and Matty play a trick on their father. It is harmless, and once he discovers it, he laughs along with them.

Under August 7, 1831, Catherine’s father tells a rather strange folk-tale. It sounds like a story which would have circulated at this time, but it involves witchcraft and warrants your scrutiny.

Under September 13, 1831, after losing her best friend, Catherine questions how Providence can so cruelly deprive us of loved ones.

Under October 20, 1831, Catherine reports that the older boys are acting rebelliously towards the new school teacher. She comments that she does not like the flavor of their actions.

Under November 8, 1831, Catherine mentions that she may go away to work at a mill.

Conclusion. A sweet and inspirational read. Click here to purchase a used copy off Amazon.