Category Archives: Classics

Celebrating Shel Silverstein–and St. Patrick’s Day

I discovered Shel Silverstein’s poetry as an adult, although I had always bean aware of his book The Giving Tree. To this day, I have mixed feelings about the book. In 2011, Everything On It was published. This poem is from that collection:



Although I cannot see your face

As you flip these poems awhile,

Somewhere from some far-off place

I hear you laughing–and I smile.


Here I go down Circle Road

Strong and hopeful hearted

Through the dust

And wind up just exactly where I started.


Check out his website also.

It wasn’t until I read A Boy Named Shel by Lisa Rogak that I learned he wrote “The Unicorn Song,” which is very popular on St. Patrick’s Day. Here are two versions. I love the art in the second one. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Image result for free clip art st. patrick's day

Image result for free clip art st. patrick's day







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Filed under Biographies, Children's Books, Classics, Poetry

Revisiting Jane Eyre

I first read Jane Eyre when I was 11, and I really liked it. Although, I never liked or forgave Edward Rochester for locking his first wife in the attic. I actually didn’t want Jane to marry him, but the author and her character didn’t see it that way.

I still have that 1940 copy of Jane Eyre. I  kept it because of the illustrations and that my neighbor gave it to me. .She had given us some books she didn’t want anymore, and it was in the bag. At the time, I didn’t know about Charlotte Brontë, her family, or where she came from. That would change a couple of years later, when I did a book report on the author. I was to encounter the novel several more times in high school, and by then I got bored. But I still love the story in all its forms over the years.

One of the latest, Reader, I Married Him, is a short story collection created and edited by historical novelist Tracy Chevalier. She contributes one story in the collection.  She was inspired to organize an anthology after visiting the Brontë family home and parsonage in Haworth, Yorkshire.

Whether sticking closely to the novel or giving the story a modern and very contemporary viewpoint, each of these women–very well known international authors–gives a creative, diverse, and unique interpretation to Jane’s famous line: “Reader, I married him.”  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, sympathize, be outraged. perhaps, or maybe curious about how life turns out for the characters. I couldn’t help but think of Shakespeare, too: “The course of true love never did run smooth.”



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Filed under Classics, Marriage and family, Short Stories, Women's Fiction

A Bear Called Paddington

My aunt and I watched Paddington on DVD last night. It’s the newest movie about the little bear from Darkest Peru who always seems to find himself on an adventure. It’s a charmer!  It had me from the opening scenes and is absolutely darling. Here’s his website.

“Please look after this bear. Thank you.” That’s the message on the note around Paddington’s neck from his Aunt Lucy as she sends him off to London. Named after Paddington Station, the marmalade-loving and very polite bear is soon adopted by the Brown family and their housekeeper, Mrs. Bird. Very soon, their lives are turned–joyfully–upside down. Let’s not forget Mr. Curry, the curmudgeonly neighbor, or Mr. Gruber, Paddington’s antique-dealer friend on the Portobello Road. The film’s bonus material reminded me of the illustrator, Peggy Fortnum. Since 1958, with the first  book, A Bear Called Paddington, children the world over have loved this series by Michael Bond. He wrote another series about the guinea pig Olga da Polga. I liked her, but she wasn’t Paddington. I do have fond memories of our school librarian reading the first Olga book to my class, though.

I was introduced to the Paddington stories by the same librarian. My family could see that I was completely hooked, so every once in a while, even on an ordinary day, surprises would come from Brentano’s Bookstore for my own collection. I would read them to myself, or my aunt and uncle would read them to me at various times. They grew to love them, too. Paddington was dinner table conversation as well as we told them to my mom and grandmother.

“He does like experiences so,” says either Mrs. Brown or Mrs. Bird, after one of Paddington’s escapades turns out well, and he writes about it in his scrapbook, or in a letter to his Aunt Lucy. To this day, I’m not much of a scrapbooker, but I did keep a few in childhood, and Paddington inspired me to do it–although I’ve never seen my life as exciting.

You gotta admit, this bear gets around, whether it’s to the beach, the cinema, the theater, on a cruise, to a classical music concert, or getting lost in Harrod’s Department Store. He even entered a painting contest. You name it, he’s done it. He’s not very handy around the house–as evidenced by his taking a bath, accidentally gluing himself and the wallpaper to the wall, and the “something nasty in the kitchen” when he tries to cook. Beware of his particularly hard stares… And for someone who grew up without pets….well, you know. Paddington also inspired an interest in the UK, which has never left me. Life circumstances have never aligned for me to go.

I think my aunt got a kick out of the film. Sadly, she doesn’t remember the stories or ever reading them to me. Maybe sometime soon I’ll check a few out to read to her, and maybe she can remember along with me.



paddington bear


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Filed under Animals, Children's Books, Classics, Film, Love of Reading, Series

Memories of “Treasure Island”

Robert Louis Stevenson's 160th Birthday

The U.S. Google Doodle of November 13, 2010 commemorates the 160th birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson. I loved the fact that the staff chose an illustration from Treasure Island. This book is one of the reasons I developed a longstanding interest in pirates. Now I know that then, as now, these guys (and women) are dangerous people–and not to be admired or emulated.

Still, to this day, I love the sea, boats, and maritime music and history. Nothing beats an exciting story about a journey. And I’ve loved many a sword fight in literature. My uncle pointed me toward adventure stories. Johann Weiss’s The Swiss Family Robinson and Howard Pyle’s The Adventures of Robin Hood were first, and special gifts. But one day when I was eleven, I didn’t know what to read. I mentioned something at the dinner table. So my uncle told me about Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver, the crew, the parrot (Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!) and the treasure everyone is in search of. Intrigued, I went to my school library the next day–and loved it! I read a chapter a day until I was done.

Actually, I could have used this book when I turned seven. That year, along with my presents, my mom gave me a birthday card with a pirate theme. It had a game, and I pestered everyone with it for about a year or so–until I lost the pieces.  More importantly, it was first grade. I got my first pair of glasses. But the eye doctor said I had to wear a patch over my left eye to strengthen vision in the right. This went on for a couple of years. I held it together in school, but at home I was often not happy about it. One time, I was in tears–and took it off. Once I calmed down, I let my mom put another on me. If I’d known about Treasure Island then, I could have borne it better by pretending I was a pirate. But all things in their time

Recently I found myself reading Nancy Horan’s Under the Wide and Starry Sky, a novel about Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny. Horan’s work reminded me of everything I loved about Robert Louis Stevenson. This time, i wanted to hear Treasure Island on audio. Shiver me timbers, it was good! I kept singing along with:

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, 

Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum!

Drink and the devil had done for the rest;

Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum!


every time it appeared in the plot. It took me back to a time when things were happier and easier. The reader, Ralph Cosham, did the characters’ voices perfectly. My only quibble is that the pauses between chapters were too quick. Listeners don’t have enough time to reflect on what happened in the chapter, or the cliffhanger. With the passage of time, I see that it’s more than an adventure or coming-of-age story. It’s about the choices you make in life, greed, trust, and redeeming yourself. It’s still a great yarn all these years later.

All this has made me recall the seafaring music I always liked, such as the Sea Chanters and Schooner Fare. Here are two other favorites:

“Fair Spanish Ladies” 

“Fiddler’s Green”

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Filed under Audiobooks, Children's Books, Classics, journeys

First Impressions–A Must for Austen Fans!

The moment I saw Charlie Lovett’s latest title, First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, I had to read it. I know this author through his first novel, The Bookman’s Tale, which I will begin soon. That one’s about Shakespeare. Learn more about his background–including being a bookseller and collector of rare titles–at his website.

First Impressions was the original title Jane Austen gave to Pride and Prejudice. Just as Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy have to get past their original negative impressions of each other, the heroine of First Impressions is torn between two men. Sophie Collingwood can’t decide whom she likes better–Eric, an irritating American grad student, or an urbane bookseller. Sophie is also at loose ends about what to do, now that she’s graduated from college. She’s’s earned a degree in English, Even though she’s worked for four years in the library of St. John’s College, Oxford, she doesn’t know what her calling should be or the direction she should take in life. Her beloved Uncle Betram, has always helped to guide her. Through him she adopted a love for literature and rare books. Along with him, she has always been a familiar figure in the London bookshops.

Alas, her uncle dies suddenly. For some reason, Sophie can’t accept what happened to him, and she decides to do some sleuthing on her own. Along the way, she gets a job with a bookshop, and pleases the customers and the owner with her tenacious ability to track books down. One day, two requests come in for the same book–an original edition of Pride and Prejudice. Time for Sophie to do more detective work.

The novel grabs readers immediately. The plot alternates between Sophie’s time in the modern day and Jane Austen’s time. Here, we find Jane and her family on holiday. One day, while out on a walk, she meets an older gentleman–Rev. Mansfield. They quickly bond over literature and writing. Fortunately for readers, the story moves fast and equal time is spent in each century.

The novel is also a love song to books, literature, and favorite works. I found these passages on page 191 very moving:

On the lower corner of the first page of the first edition of Pride and Prejudice housed at St. John’s College, Oxford, is a small circular water stain. It does not affect the text, nor is it significant enough to reduce the value of the book. But, like every mark in a book, it tells a story, and like so many marks in so many books, it is a story known only to one person and doomed to be lost forever when that person is no more. It is the mark of a single tear that dropped from the cheek of Sophie Collingwood as she stared at those words, and is a testament to the power of literature.

Sophie wiped her cheek, but could not put the book down. Lost in the words, she read on, embracing both the familiar story and the unfamiliar way it appeared on the page. She felt herself somehow at one with the first men and women who read the novel; she felt especially connected to the person–she imagined her a lady of some wealth living in Bath–who first read this very copy.

This is a lovely. imaginative, and engaging read. Not to be missed.


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Filed under Classics, Fiction, Jane Austen, Mystery, New Titles

Umbrella, A Childhood Favorite

I first heard Taro Yashima‘s Umbrella when my third grade teacher read it aloud to our class. It’s about a little girl named Momo who gets an umbrella and boots for her third birthday. She can’t wait to try them out, and longs for a rainy day, since sometimes umbrellas are impractical in the wind and sun. Finally, a rainy day comes….

The colorful illustrations grabbed me first, then the Japanese words and writing. To this day, writing and speaking in another language fascinates me; however, I’m only fluent in English. The story spoke to me because I have always disliked rainy days. I know rain is necessary for the flowers, grass, and trees. It’s just the way of things to have rain. This story challenged me to look at “bad weather” differently and to see rain in new ways–maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to even enjoy it. As the years passed, I learned to not let wet weather bring me down. Sometimes, a day inside is good.

I saw a copy of Umbrella at a school book fair a couple of months after the class discussion. Alas, I didn’t buy it. I’ve always thought of the book as “the one that got away,” because I outgrew it quickly. Every once in a while, I get nostalgic and look at it again.

Here’s a children’s librarian reading Umbrella:

I recently discovered one of Yashima’s other works, Crow Boy, which I like even better. It teaches a beautiful lesson in never counting anyone out, and tat each person has something to offer, Very often, it’s an understanding and caring teacher who brings these qualities out.

Here’s another reading by a different librarian:


Happy reading!

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Filed under Children's Books, Classics, inspiration

Appreciating Langston Hughes

February 1 was the anniversary of the birth of the poet, playwright, and short story writer Langston Hughes. He’s always been my favorite. I recall one of his poems that appeared in one of my elementary-school language arts textbooks. I can’t recall whether it was “April Rain Song” or “Autumn Thought.” In any case, that poem was my introduction. Today, I have the Selected Poems of Langston Hughes on my Nook. There are plenty of longer anthologies as well. I’m pleased that all his works, including the two volumes of his autobiography, are still easy to find.

Years later, I got a complete picture of his work–and of Hughes as a person. He was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. For a brief time, he lived in Washington, D.C.

Google commemorated his birthday with the following musical Google Doodle:

The following is a list of some favorite Hughes poems. Which are yours?


“Theme for English B”

I relate to the feeling of being “different” in this poem. The other reason I like the poem is that I saw and heard it recited several years ago by Will Farley, then a student at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. He was a guest on a Memorial Day weekend performance of “A Prairie Home Companion,” which my aunt and I saw and enjoyed live. Here is a poetry recap show of “Prairie” where you can listen to the poem.

The Trumpet Player

I never read this one without recalling Louis Armstrong.

In Time of Silver Rain

I didn’t know until I looked it up recently that Hughes dedicated this work to Lorraine Hansberry, the playwright who wrote A Raisin in the Sun–a favorite play of mine. He had learned she had cancer.

Here it is set to music:

Mother to Son

I always liked this one because it shows parental teaching and encouragement. The mom is trying to inspire determination, strength. and resilience in her son, because life is hard sometimes. It’s so important to keep going.

This YouTube video shows Langston Hughes himself reading this poem at the end. This is the first time I have ever heard his voice.

Finally, here is “Bad Morning”–another one I can relate to. Believe me, if all that happens to you on a bad morning is mismatched shoes, you’re doing pretty well. 🙂

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Filed under African American Literature, Classics, Poetry

The Red Balloon

I know this entry isn’t directly literary, but I thought I would include it anyway. I happened to look at the TV listings last night, and noticed that Turner Classic Movies was running the 1956 short film, The Red Balloon, as part of its “31 Days of Oscar.”

I tuned in, very excited, because it has been years since I’ve seen it. I saw it several times in school and always liked it. I loved the story, but I was also intrigued by Paris, France. At the time, I didn’t know anything about its background or many awards.

When I watched it again last night, I thought about how much kids love balloons, how colorful they are, and how, for a time, they are like friends. Those filled with helium, especially, spark the imagination. If I’m outside and I let go, where will it travel to? Balloons are also something to enjoy as much as you can, because most of the time they last only for a short while. To this day, I become overly startled when a balloon pops.

In the film, the balloons give color and brightness to a city that was still faded and shell-shocked from World War II. Knowing now that most of the section of Paris depicted in the film was eventually torn down, the film is a powerful commemoration.

Here is the full, original movie from YouTube. Enjoy!

I also recalled reading a poem as a kid by E.E. Cummings about a balloon man and enjoying the illustrations. I remember wondering why the lines looked funny. Now I know that it’s called “in Just spring.” Here is the author reading the poem, which is really great because I never knew what Cummings sounded like:

Here’s another favorite by him–“i thank You God for most this amazing.”

Most days may in fact not be that remarkable. Feeling gratitude anyway is a wonderful gift to have, and with it you can see the extraordinary.




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Filed under Children's Books, Classics, Film, Hope, Poetry, Uncategorized

10 Rooms That Should Be in the House of Life

In the December 2013 issue of Reader’s Digest, the following essay was reprinted. I liked it so much that I saved it after I was through with the issue. There is much wisdom in it. My paper copy is getting threadbare, so I thought I would reproduce it here. It was originally adapted in 1922 by RD from The New American Magazine. The author is Dr. Frank Crane, a Presbyterian minister.

10 Rooms That Should Be in the House of Life

Perhaps you think you could easily add to your happiness if you had more money. Strange as it may seem, if you’re unsatisfied, the issue is not a lack of means to gratify your desires but a lack of desires–not that you cannot satisfy your tastes but that you don’t have enough tastes.

Innumerable poor wretches have nothing but money. If you are a careful observer, you will see that real riches consist of well-developed and hearty capacities to enjoy life. Most people are already swamped with things. They eat too much, wear too much, go too much, live in too big a house, hear too much, and talk too much. I know people who live in houses of brick and stone where there are too many rooms, yet their house of life is a hut.

Your house of life ought to be a mansion, a royal palace. Every new taste, every additional interest, every fresh enthusiasm adds a room. Here are ten rooms your house of life should have.

1. Art

“Why art?” you ask. “Why should I cultivate a new desire? I can’t satisfy those I have.” Simply because the world is full of beautiful things. If you only understood how to enjoy them, how to feed your spirit on them, they would make you as happy as to find plenty of ham and eggs when you are hungry.

2. Letters

Literature, classic literature, is a beautiful, richly furnished chamber, wherein, if you only loved it, you might find many an hour of rest and refreshment. To gain that love would go toward making you a rich person, for a rich person is not someone who has a library but who likes a library.

3. Music

You do not care for Mozart and Bach? You shun the symphony? Poverty is a curse, and poverty of taste is the worst curse of all. Real riches are of the spirit. And when you have brought that spirit up to where classical music feeds it and makes you a little drunk, you have increased your thrills and bettered them. And life is a matter of thrills.

4. Outdoors

There are many, especially city dwellers, who are dead to the delights of the great outdoors. They are dead to the wonder and witchery of the sky, forest, and stream; they have no craving for the joys of tramping, hunting, exploring, botanizing, geologizing, and stargazing. Is it not better to give a child a taste that will enrich his life than to give him money that may cramp and impoverish it?

5. Sentiment

There are a number of people who, for one reason or another, have closed or attempted to close the door of their hearts. Many of these have been wounded or betrayed. So, because there os some tragedy in the room of sentiment, they have shut it up and locked the door.

But the fact is that one’s capacity for pain is the exact measure of his capacity for enjoyment. The fullness of life and its richness can be found only by those who are willing to endure the sufferings which equip them for the keener joys. By endeavoring to shut themselves away from all sentiment, they may save themselves pain, but they make their lives drab and empty.

Don’t be afraid to go into the room of love, of friendship, of the piercing experiences that come to you only through the affections. There is doubtless in that room a sword, but there is also a brimming wine cup.

6. Children

The very cares that children bring, the anxiety and heartbreak, are what you need to make your life rich. Every child is another room in the house of life.

7. Sports

Do you read the sporting pages in the newspaper? Do you dance or play chess or tennis? Can you enjoy a game of pool? It’s a poor person who can’t play. No matter who you are, you would be more human, and your house of life would be better buttressed against the bad days, if you could, and did, play a bit.

8. Food

Let food stand for all the “animalities.” Do you derive pleasure from the physical rituals of your day? Do you try to appreciate your bed, your clothes, your meals? Do you mark the comforts of your bath, your armchair, your slippers? Suppose you list the small human things  that delight you in the day’s round, such as the odor of coffee and bacon, the quiet hour to yourself after the family have gone to bed, the zest of morning, the sense of adventure in going to your work each day, the taste of apples, the pleasure of a brisk walk, the amusing differences in the people you meet, the feel of silk, of books, of your pen. There are a hundred more points of pleasure in your day than you imagine.

9. Religion

Do not boast that you have no religious feeling. You are depriving yourself of something that is your rightful inheritance. Of course the religious feeling has, like all things mixed with human clay, shown sides of pettiness, the angles of disgust, cruelty and unreason, but, withal, it has done much to beautify and ennoble our humanity.

And if I shut myself out from God, from the contemplation of the Infinite, and from that sublimity man gets from religious emotion only, I am harming myself. I want a house of life to have magnificence and splendor. Why should I seal up the chapel because others misuse it?

10. Work

Most of us have to work. And most of us think we do not like it. As a matter of fact, we do. We should be vastly more miserable without than with work. Without struggle, danger, adventure, hope, fear, and triumph, life is empty–and usually a tremendous bore.

The secret of a contented old age is to keep on adding rooms to the house of life.

Writer Dr. Frank Crane (1861–1928) was a prominent Presbyterian minister and the author of a dozen popular inspirational books. Ten of his articles were published in Reader’s Digest between 1922 and 1924. “Ten Rooms,” which appeared in our third issue, was the first of them.

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The Juggler of Notre Dame

As you can tell, I’ve been reminiscing about favorite Christmas stories. “The Juggler of Notre Dame” is another favorite. The following film was made in the early 1980s, but it only aired once. I was thrilled to find it on YouTube. Enjoy!

And here’s the original story that inspired it.



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Filed under Classics, Favorite Essays, Hope