On a cold, March day in 1806, Abbie and Seth lost their beloved mother to the smallpox epidemic that was ripping through the town of Wiscasset, Maine. Without food or wood for the fire, the children were in terrible trouble. They could hear the bell tolling for the dead—so many times for a man, so many for a woman, so many for a child. But how many for a missing father? In Lea Wait’s Stopping to Home, the only hope the brother and sister have to survive is that someone in that stricken town will take them in, if only for a little while.
Enough with the zombies, already! Before the undead purportedly trod the moors of Georgian England, it was a relatively pleasant, safe place—albeit humming with an occasional murder and talk of international intrigue. Certainly that should be quite enough to keep a heroine’s attention. Indeed when Jane Austen’s friend Isobel becomes a friend in need upon the suspicious death of her new though elderly husband, it is up to quick-witted Jane to save her life—and reputation!-- in Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, by Stephanie Barron.
Now that the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville is upon us, it seems a fitting time to look at how the lives of a family of mainly young women were affected by being suddenly thrust into a war zone and how they were able to survive with the aid of an enemy officer. Sue Chancellor was only fourteen when the area around her home became a bloody battlefield. Their house, called Chancellorsville, was used for a headquarters by first the Confederate and then the Union army while the family continued to live there.
The guy hanging car doors at the GM plant in Flint, Michigan, for 13 years was taking home a decent wage, but he wanted much more out of life than that. There was another side to Christopher Paul Curtis—a creative side. On his job breaks, he kept a journal and wrote stories. The first of those, he said, were “just plain bad,”* but he got better. A lot better. His second wife encouraged him to keep writing, so he quit the job at the plant, moved the family just a little way to Canada, took other jobs that were less mind-numbing, as well as courses in creative writing. Ten years later, his first book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, won the Newbery Honor, the Golden Kite Award, and the Coretta Scott King Award.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, is a gentle, wondrous Chinese fantasy book for children. Set in a long-ago times, it follows a brave and bright girl named Minli who lives with her parents in a poor farming village. There is barely enough rice to keep them fed and certainly not any for luxuries. Most all the people are downtrodden and worried about their daily lives, but not Minli. She does not like the hard work in the sticky, muddy rice fields, but every evening she can look forward to stories told by her beloved father.
These tales fill her heart and her mind in such a way that she becomes the most radiant and hopeful young girl living near Fruitless Mountain. Indeed, she is so hopeful that when a peddler comes to their village with bowls of lucky goldfish, she takes her small savings to buy one, with high expectations. But when no luck seems to come and her father starts sharing his small supper with the hungry fish, Minli knows she must let it go. Releasing it into the Jade River, a river created according to legend from the body of a grieving dragon, she is surprised when a sweet, high-pitched voice—the goldfish!—offers to help her find her fortune by telling her the way to Never-Ending-Mountain where lives the Old Man of the Moon. The Old Man knows all things, including how her family’s fortune might be changed.
“She was always very generous with her time and hospitality to me, and I loved working with her. She helped me with my walking tour as well. I have not been in touch with her over the past several years, but to this day whenever I give one of my walking tours downtown, I make sure that all on the tour with me are made aware that the basis for most of the information shared on the walking tour is the result of the great work and passion of one Ruth Coder Fitzgerald and her book -- A Different Story. In my view, Ruth was always a caring and powerful voice for the underdog, the ‘little guy,’ and her lifelong commitment to inform, to teach, and advocate for that particular constituent speaks volumes about her makeup, her sense of fairness for all, and her heart of gold. My admiration and love for Ruth, and what she stood for, is never-ending.”
--Jervis Hairston, former City Planner and local historian
On April 10, 2013, a highly-regarded pioneer in local African American history died at her home in downtown Fredericksburg. Ruth Coder Fitzgerald was well-known throughout the community for her historical research and writings as well as for her championing of an important cause for Vietnam veterans.
No one really liked Duny in A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. The boy was wild, proud, and full of temper-- well-suited to the company of the goats he herded. Then came the day when he overheard his aunt chanting a spell to call her goat down from the roof of her house. He remembered the rhyme and later spoke it to his own herd:
"Noth hierth malk man hiolk han merth han!"
The first time he said it, they came to him all together, staring with their yellow eyes. Duny laughed and shouted the rhyme again. They pushed towards him with their thick, ridged horns. Duny ran all the way to town with the goats close beside. The villagers laughed at him and cursed the animals.
The Ojibwa trappers had come to trade with the villagers on Spirit Island, but what they saw caused them to turn their boats around and head for home as quickly as they could. The entire island seemed empty of life. Smallpox, the terrible illness for which the Native Americans had little immunity, had wiped out everyone. Well, almost everyone. Still alive and crawling through the ruins was a baby girl, all alone.
Omakayas, or Little Frog, was soon adopted into another Ojibwa family on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island. Her life is as rich and full as that of another beloved book character, Laura Ingalls, and there are many similarities between the stories, including the children’s delight in nature and wild creatures.. Omakayas’ family’s everyday activities and celebrations and tragedies are carefully set down, from season to season. The Birchbark House is foremost a very well-written story with believable, lovable and intriguing characters, including Omakayas’ annoyingly greedy little brother and beautiful but sometimes cold-hearted big sister. Older generations are also well-represented. The grandmother, a gifted healer, shares stories of long-ago, and her dreams are filled with omens of things to come and solutions to real-life problems given by the spirit world.
History and gardening fans get together April 20 through 27, 2013, throughout the Commonwealth to tour gardens of houses great and small from the Tidewater area to the Highlands. The Rappahannock Valley portion of the tour will be held Tuesday, April 23, in the Fredericksburg area, including Stafford County:
"To celebrate the anniversary – this tour will feature homes that were opened 80 years ago! Featured locations include Belmont in Falmouth, Virginia, The Snowden House, Chatham, Brompton and Fall Hill. All of these properties enjoy spectacular views of the area and the Rappahannock."
Tours will be offered in different venues throughout the state through Saturday, April 27. Check out the Garden Club of Virginia's Web site for information on all the tours and check out books from the library featuring homes and gardens in the Old Dominion.