Virginia Johnson

Folktales of the American Indians

The tribes who lived in the Western Hemisphere before the coming of the Europeans were as different from each other as the countries that came to claim their lands. The many stories of the people who farmed, hunted, and herded in the plains, forests, deserts, and hills of what we call North America tell how they saw the Universe and the wisdom that they found in Nature.

The Forgotten History of America: Little-Known Conflicts of Lasting Importance from the Earliest Colonists to the Eve of the Revolution by Cormac O’Brien

The Forgotten History of America by Cormac O'Brien

History, particularly popular history, need not be dull, something that Cormac O’Brien demonstrates readily in his book, The Forgotten History of America. Written in a conversational tone and broken into vignettes, old history is made new when written this way. Even so, it’s not the standard stuff taught in schools. It’s about wars and both sides in those wars, reaching back to the country’s colonial beginnings in the 16th century. With personalities writ large on both sides and a good understanding of the differences in modern and historical society, O’Brien leads his readers on journeys back in time:

It begins with the first permanent European settlement in North America:

1565

Pedro Menedez de Aviles anxiously paced the deck of his flagship, San Pelayo. Two days earlier, off the coast of Florida, he had gone ashore and met with Indians who offered valuable information about the prey he was desperately seeking.  Now, confident of success, he led his five vessels northward along the coastline, scanning the beaches for any sign of European settlement.  The day was September 4, 1565, and Menendez was hunting heretics.

Colonial Churches of Virginia, by Don W. and Sue Massey

Colonial Churches of Virginia, by Don W. and Sue Massey

Colonial Churches of Virginia is a  beautiful and beautifully-written work that does a good job of giving the history and architectural highlights of more than 50 historic churches in the Old Dominion. Most are Anglican or Episcopal, but representative early churches can also be found for Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Mennonite, and Lutheran congregations. Current service times are noted for each church.

Natalie Babbitt: Truth in Fairy Tales

“...it makes me uncomfortable to know that my story Tuck Everlasting is required reading in some classrooms. My sympathies are entirely with the children, for many will react to Tuck as I well might have--with a shudder. Many will find its language too ‘fancy,’ its pace too slow, its topic unsettling, the behavior of its hero incomprehensible.”--Natalie Babbitt in "Saying What You Think." The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress*

It is perhaps surprising that an author would almost prefer her books were not required reading.  But it is less surprising in Natalie Babbitt’s case. Her best-beloved books are sweet and strong and true in spirit while containing enough wonder and marvel to lend a sparkle to a reader’s otherwise mundane childhood. This children’s author, like many of the best, remembers what it is like to be a child. What she liked to read--and what she didn’t. She understands that children have strong opinions on their favorite books, even if they may not be comfortable in expressing them.  She certainly remembers what she liked:

Dying for Tie-Dye

Image courtesy of Paula Burch's All About Hand Dyeing, http://www.pburch.net/dyeing.shtml

Feel like putting a little free spirit in your summer? Get on your oldest clothes, grab some buckets and rubber gloves, and head for the backyard to create beautiful tie-dye crafts.

You can use natural or artificial dyes, depending on whether you want your design to be a real eye-popper or something subtler that bespeaks being at one with nature. You can use a tie-dye kit or collect wild things from nature for earthier tones. Heck, even unsweetened Kool-Aid can be used as a dye to produce vivid color.

Dorchester Terrace: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel by Anne Perry

Dorchester Terrace: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel by Anne Perry

For those who have followed Charlotte and Thomas Pitt from their awkward yet charming days of courtship in The Cater Street Hangman, Anne Perry’s recent Dorchester Terrace is a very enjoyable continuation of the series. Thomas has risen far since his days as a regular London policeman. He’s now head of Special Branch, a reward for his brilliant detective work and, probably not incidentally, saving Queen Victoria from a dastardly plot.

But, in class-conscious, 19th-century Britain, family background matters a lot to some people. Thomas, a gamekeeper’s son, often encounters people who question his ability to do his job when they find out who he isn’t. One of those is his immediate predecessor as head of Special Branch, Victor Narraway. In the preceding novel, Victor lost his job to Thomas almost but not quite disgracefully and rather lost his heart to Thomas’ clever and kind wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, born to live in Narraway’s world of privilege, has assisted her husband’s investigations through the years, but now that he is privy to so many state secrets, that will surely change—won’t it?

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

It was the goat that gave it away.

Some young wizards-to-be discover their destinies through an engraved invitation. But for Sparrowhawk, unscrubbed and unbiddable goat herder on the island of Gont, an overheard word in the true, magical language was enough to get him started. Not just one stubborn goat but the whole herd was brought to heel with a single word. Clearly the lad had potential.

Virginia at War: 1865, edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr.

The opening months of the Civil War had a certain boldness and cachet to them. Young men in particular signed up in droves.  Picnickers came down from D.C. to take a gander at the First Battle of Manassas, discovering all too quickly that war is no theatrical entertainment.  However, four years later when the South was playing an end-game, the damage to not just its army but also to its civilians was clearly a factor in its surrender. In 1863, there had been bread riots in Richmond.  In 1864, the Shenandoah Valley’s crops and businesses had been burned by Union General Sheridan who was advised by his commander Grant to ”Give the enemy no rest ... Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can.”

And so it was. The civilians and soldiers alike were hit with shortages, and the last year of the war was a particularly brutal time. In William C. Davis’ and James I. Robertson, Jr.’s Virginia at War: 1865, the editors include eight essays by modern scholars and a diary from a Virginia woman, the wife of a minister, who observed that last year from her refugee quarters in Richmond where she served as a nurse and a clerk.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Hazel was young and strong and a bit clever.  His best friend, however, was a runt no one thought much of.  But Hazel knew something about Fiver that made him respect the little fellow. Fiver was gifted with the Sight. He somehow could tell in advance what might be coming, and just then Fiver was terrified to the very marrow of his bones.

Rabbits such as Hazel and Fiver who live in the English countryside usually lead a pretty nice life. There are predators, sure. Foxes, hawks, and even stray dogs might grab an unwary rabbit. But rabbits are sociable creatures, living in cozy warrens underground, usually staying in the same place for years at a time. They eat together, play together, and follow a leader. And so it was at Sandleford warren.

Rabbits are usually rather biddable beings of habit so when Fiver, with Hazel backing him up, tries to convince their chief rabbit Threarah  that death and disaster are coming—and soon—it’s a losing situation.  After all, "The Threarah doesn't like anything he hasn't thought of for himself."  His Owsla guards don’t believe them, either, and it is against the rules of the warren to leave it without permission.  But they’re going to do it anyway.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

“It was June and long past time for buying the special shoes that were quiet as summer rain falling on the walks. June and the earth full of raw power and everything everywhere in motion.  The grass was still pouring in from the country, surrounding the sides, stranding the houses.  Any moment the town would capsize, go down and leave not a stir in the clover and weeds.  And here Douglas stood, trapped on dead cement and red-brick streets, hardly able to move.”

The opening piece in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine finds Doug Spaulding at the start of his twelfth summer, yearning for a pair of running shoes that will let him be a part of the glorious season. Like the dandelion wine bottled and stored in his grandparents’ cellar, the memories of that long-ago summer are preserved to be savored by his readers.