Squares, Bears, and Some Gentle Fun #Poetry #AAMilne

Bears–cute teddy bears to scary grizzlies–often make an appearance in children’s stories–from Goldilocks who came upon the three bears’ house in the forest (subject of a topsy turvy version by Roald Dahl) to Baloo in the Jungle Book, to Winnie-the-Pooh, and their relationship with ‘literary children’ has been described as rather ‘ambivalent’.* Some are friendly like Pooh and Baloo, but others well kept at a distance. One such instance, where bears’ ‘scary’ image is relied on is A.A. Milne’s poem, ‘Lines and Squares’, which ‘tries to make a poetic game map onto a child’s game, and vice versa’.* The poem first appeared in his collection When We Were Young, published in 1924, and illustrated (or rather, ‘decorated’) by E.H. Shepard. This book also has another famous poem ‘Teddy Bear’, said to be the first appearance of his most famous creation, Winnie-the-Pooh.

In the poem, Milne plays with the children’s game of walking in squares without stepping on the lines. As one does in the game of hopscotch, where one must jump through the shapes, and recover the stone or other object thrown inside without, among other things, stepping on a line, in which case you end up losing your turn.

Hopscotch

But in Milne’s poem, stepping on a line or across a square doesn’t simply put you ‘out’ of the game, for here, at the edges of the squares, lurk ‘masses of bears’ lying in wait ‘all ready to eat’, who else but ‘the sillies who tread on the lines of the street’. But our narrator (I don’t think it is Christopher Robin in Shepard’s illustration), knows better and tells the bears, ‘Just see how I’m walking in all the squares’. The bears here are cunning, and pretend that all they’re doing is ‘looking for a friend’, and don’t care in the least whether you step on a line or don’t walk within a square. But of course, they’re only growling to each other, of which of them will get him when he steps on a line. Our narrator isn’t fooled though, unlike the ‘sillies’ who might believe what the creatures say, and tells the bears, that they can ‘just watch [him] walking in all the squares’!

This is a sweet little poem, reminding one of the games one played as children, but of course adding a gentle touch of fun (well, may not that gentle since it does involve the possibility of getting eaten by bears). A lovely little read!

Have you read this one before? What did you think of it? Looking forward to your thoughts!

  • *James Williams, ‘Children’s Poetry at Play’, in Katherine Wakeley-Mulroney and Louise Joy (eds), The Aesthetics of Children’s Poetry: A Study of Children’s verse in English (Routeledge, 2018).
  • When We Were Young, Wikipedia (here)
  • The Three Bears Image via Wikimedia Commons (here)
  • Hopscotch Image via Wikimedia Commons (here)
  • Full poem here

Children’s Book of the Month: The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

This is a book that I hadn’t read (or heard of) as a child, but was recommended to me by a ‘book’ friend who has led me to discover many ‘new’ favourites, and so I was very much looking forward to reading this. I had seen parts of a movie version of this (The Secret of Moonacre) but didn’t know until much later that this is what it was based on.

Maria Merryweather, a thirteen-year-old is heading from London into the country, to Moonacre Manor where she is to live with her cousin, Sir Benjamin Merryweather, as she has lost her father, while her mother had died when she was younger. With her are her strict but loving governess Miss Heliotrope, and King Charles spaniel, Wiggins. Maria is sceptical of going to the country which she feels will be dull after life in London, and the way there has not been very promising. But as soon as they begin to approach Moonacre Manor, it begins to work its magic on her and when they arrive and she meets Sir Benjamin and they are shown their rooms, she knows she is home. So begins her life at Moonacre where there is much that is mysterious and magical, mostly in a good way (little sugary biscuits placed in her room, her clothes being laid out for her everyday when there seems to be no maid in the house). But life there has its share of troubles too, with broken hearts and relationships, and a band of wicked men out to cause trouble, and Maria finds that it is up to her and her friends, new and old, but much of the time the band of animals at Moonacre–Wrolf the dog, Zacariah the cat, Perriwinkle the pony, Serena the Hare, and Wiggins (well, Wiggins doesn’t really do anything), to put things to rights, as has been foretold by a prophecy. To do this of course, she must also overcome her own shortcomings.

I simply loved this one right from the start, mostly because there is something very magical about the atmosphere Goudge creates—she makes you want to almost step into the book and live in Moonacre manor which is a warm, welcoming place, with lovely surroundings—so are the other houses described, like the old parsonage and Loveday’s house. Her descriptions too are beautiful. As usual I never remember to mark them when I read them but this for instance:

Never in all her short life had she seen such wonderful trees; giant beeches clad in silver armour, rugged oaks, splendid chestnuts, and delicate birches shimmering with light. They had no leaves as yet but the buds were swelling, and there seemed a mist of pale colour among their branches—amethyst and chrome and rose and blue, all melting into each other like the colours of a rainbow that shines for a moment through the clouds and then changes its mind and goes away again.

There are plenty of others as well. Here what she has to say of Wiggins:

But it is difficult to draw up a list of Wiggins’ virtues… In fact impossible because he hadn’t any… Wiggins was greedy, conceited, bad-tempered, selfish and lazy. … But though Wiggins’ moral character left much to be desired, it must not be thought of that he was a useless member of society, for a thing of beauty is a joy for ever, and Wiggins’ beauty was of that high order that can only be described by that tremendous trumpet sounding word ‘incomparable’. He was a pedigree King Charles Spaniel. His coat was deep cream in colour, smooth and glossy everywhere except his chest where it broke into an exquisite cascade of soft curls like a gentleman’s frilled shirt cuff….

While the plot may have its issues if looked at from a present-day point of view, I didn’t think those issues took away the generally magical atmosphere of it or affected my enjoyment of it. I loved the characters too—I thought they were quite unique and likeable. But they are realistic too, some of them allowing their egos to get in the way and taking the wrong decisions, as human beings are apt to do. And there are those that are a mix of the real and the fantastical, like Maria’s friend Robin (who she magically knows in London but meets once again at Moonacre), who might be real but has elements of Pan (I initially thought Puck since he was called Robin but then realised from his playing the pipe and connection with animals that he was more Pan). All the animals too are wonderful—from the lion-like Wrolf to Zacariah who can write in hieroglyphics (a tad much, but fun all the same, it’s a fantasy after all). Wiggins might do nothing but he’s still a sweet fellow.

And of course, I can’t not mention all the food—that was pretty much the level of Enid Blyton, plenty of it, delicious sounding too, and makes one hungry reading about it. This was a lovely read—I thoroughly enjoyed it. Four and a half stars!  

Children’s Book of the Month: Superstar Tapir by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy #Children’sBooks

This is as you can see a book for very young readers, but the reason I picked it up was that I heard about it (another volume in the series, actually) from a friend’s review and not only did the stories sound charming, the illustrations/artwork was what caught my eye—pages in distinctive stripes, and all the art in black, white, grey, and one specific colour—in this case, yellow/orange (the colour of a ripe mango-fitting considering the main character’s name). I actually wrote about this one in a Shelf Control post last month (here).

Mango and Bambang is a series of (so far) four books featuring the adventures of a ‘calm and clever’ little girl Mango Allsorts, and her friend, a ‘daring and devoted’ tapir Bambang. This, the fourth in the series, is a collection of four short stories, connected somewhat in that each story starts off where the previous left off, but is essentially a complete story in itself. In the stories in this collection, Mango creates for Bambang who has never seen snow, his very own snow day, complete with the experience of falling snow but in a very special way; Mango’s father, who balances books for much of the time, takes a break and takes Mango and Bambang to the fair, which smells of popcorn and sugar, here the friends enjoy the rides while Mango’s father takes a turn at the hoopla, but there’s also trouble as the two run into an old enemy, in no less than a mummy’s tent; Bambang’s friend, the little dog Rocket has always been interested in space, and when she disappears having set out to travel to the moon, Mango and Bambang must find her and make sure she is safe; and in the final story, the two are invited to the premiere of Bambang’s cousin, Guntur’s movie, ‘A Tiny Tapir’s Tears’ and while Bambang is impressed with his little but somewhat puffed-up cousin’s many talents, Mango makes him realise that he isn’t an ordinary tapir either.

This certainly was as charming a collection of stories as my friend had said in her review. I enjoyed them all—though if I had to pick a favourite, may be it would be the snow day. I loved the friendship between Mango and Bambang, and how they always stand by and help each other, in every situation, whether it is an adventure where they are escaping a villain, helping a friend, or simply making each other realise their true worth. The stories are as I said, complete in themselves, but there are also connections with stories from earlier books—friends they have met in the past, villains they have encountered, and such, so if one reads these as a series, these would add to one’s enjoyment, though reading a later book first doesn’t spoil one’s fun in any way (I have only read this one).

And (I have sort of said this already in my Shelf Control post) there’s lots to love about the book in terms of the artwork as well. I liked the illustrations and style very much, and also the whole design of the book—the tiny tapirs covering the front and back inner pages, the illustrated ‘cast of characters’ (or at least of main characters) at the beginning, and the distinctive striped pages with illustrations at the beginning of each story. This was a sweet and pleasant read (quick too), and I’m sure if you enjoy children’s books, you will love this one as well!

Children’s Book (?) of the Month: Enid Blyton’s School Stories

This month I didn’t read any children’s books except for In the Fifth at Malory Towers which I’ve reviewed already (here). So for my children’s book of the month this time, I thought I’d do a more general post about Enid Blyton’s school stories. If you’ve been following this blog, you know of course that Blyton is one of my favourite writers who I read a lot of as a child and still continue to. With over 700 books to her credit, she has written so many genres, fantasy and magic, circus stories, mysteries, farm stories, adventures, nature books, and much much more. But this post is all about her school stories–all set in different boarding schools of course, where there are the ‘usual’ elements of school life–lessons, exams, and games, but also adventures and fun, and sometimes, a mystery or two as well. Among her school stories are three series and one standalone.

Malory Towers: I’m starting with this since this is the series I’m currently revisiting. This series (of six books) tells the story of Darrell Rivers, a twelve-year-old who heads off to Malory Towers, a boarding school in Cornwall, when the series opens. She is excited to make new friends in her time there but when she arrives, she realises that making a good friend is perhaps not as easy as she first thought. And before she does, she must see people for who they are, because first impressions are not always right. What I’ve been loving about this series is how (even though Blyton had a certain idea of how ‘good’ children were) it throughout carries the idea that the world is made up of all sorts of people (like the level-headed Sally, the sharp-tongued Alicia, talented scatterbrain Irene and musical Belinda, and the self-absorbed ‘baby’ Gwendolen Lacy), and one has to learn to deal with them, accept them, also each of us need to change a little for things to go on. I also like the fact that our heroine Darrell isn’t a perfect character, she has temper issues which she has to constantly deal with. Though not students, the two Mam’zelles especially the jolly Mam’zelle Dupont stand out as well! These are fun school stories of course with fun and games, and tricks (the funnest ones were when they write with invisible chalk on the music master’s stool, when Alicia’s cousin June inflates herself in Mam’zelle’s class (where all tricks are played), and when Mam’zelle Dupont plays a trick of her own) too but what I liked most on this reading is the focus on people and human nature. The distinctive Cornish landscape too stands out in many of the stories.

St Clares: This was the series (once again six books) I read more of as a child (countless times, in fact) and so it remains a kind of favourite with me, the details staying more with me than in the other school stories. Here we have not one ‘heroine’ but two, twins Pat(ricia) and Isabel O’Sullivan, and unlike Darrell Rivers, they are not looking forward to St Clares when they first head there. They’ve been head-girls at their old school and believe they are good at everything, and wanted to attend a more ‘snobbish’ school where they friends were going. Luckily, their parents think otherwise and find St Clares the more sensible choice. After initially attempting to be ‘difficult’, the twins soon realise the worth of the school, making friends and doing well. This series has its share of amusing characters too, the fun Doris and Bobbie, the fiery-tempered circus girl Carlotta, and the French girl Claudine among them. And substituting for Gwendolen Mary, is the less selfish but empty headed Alison, the twins’ cousin. Again first impressions are not everything, when the ‘mousy’ Gladys turns out to be a superb actress! There are once again games and matches (lacrosse particularly, but also tennis), lots of tricks, and also plenty of midnight feasts (more than in Malory Towers If I remember right) in this series.

The Naughtiest Girl: This series of four is set in Whyteleaf School, a very different one from Malory Towers or St Clares. Our main character here, Elizebeth Allen, is like Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan not particularly keen to go to Whyteleaf, and tries her best to be thrown out. But of course, that changes soon enough when Elizabeth realises she actually likes the place, but she has to work up the courage to say so! The school itself is what stands out in this one. For one, it is co-ed unlike Malory Towers and St Clares. But more than that it is much freer and also in a way much more radical, since all decisions are taken by a student body, including determining punishments and trying to keep the environment as egalitarian as possible (the other schools are pretty traditional with the teachers and head in-charge of discipline). The students have a wider range of activities, and yes, they allow pets (just the place for me–of course, Malory Towers allowed Wilhemina ‘Bill’, and Clarissa to keep their horses at school).

Mischief at St Rollo’s: Unlike the other three above this is a standalone and was published under Blyton’s pseudonym Mary Pollock. This is one I haven’t actually read yet, and only found out about fairly recently. This one features siblings Mike and Janet Fairley who are being sent to St Rollos (where they don’t want to go, of course 🙂 ) but begin making friends from when they get on the train to school. There is the usual sharing of tuck, midnight feasts, and even a case of cheating in the previous term, the consequences of which are still playing out.

Have you read any of these books? Which ones and which are your favourites among them? Any other school stories or series you’d recommend? And yes, If I missed any of Blyton’s school stories here, do let me know. Looking forward to your thoughts!

Review: Murder at the Museum by Lena Jones

My thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins UK Children’s for a review copy of this book.

Murder at the Museum is the second in the Agatha Oddly series of books, a children’s series. Agatha Oddlow is thirteen and a very busy thirteen-year-old indeed. She is a detective and has been one for as long as she can remember, and any time a mystery piques her interest, she simply has to look into it. She is a great fan of Agatha Christie, her namesake, and especially of Poirot. In this one, the case she works on is a murder at the British Museum—one of the staff members has been stabbed for no apparent reason, and the only artefact missing is one of little value. So robbery was obviously not the motive. Agatha also attends the prestigious St Regis school as a scholarship student, where her friends are Liam and Brianna, who also help with her investigations. It helps that Brianna has her own chemistry lab at home and can run various tests. [Brianna was a member of the “Chic Clique”, a typical popular girl, but is now friends with Liam and Agatha, with whom she can be herself.] And if that wasn’t enough for a thirteen-year-old, Agatha is also awaiting tests to become a member of the Gatekeepers Guild, a secret organisation that works to keep London (in fact the country) safe, and has access to a network of tunnels and passageways under the city which can get them anywhere. Her mother was a star member, and died in somewhat mysterious circumstances which Agatha wants to get to the bottom of. Oh, and to add to all of that, Agatha’s father seems to have a secret too! All of this together makes for an action packed story where all these threads move along together to create a fun and exciting read.

I read this book without having read the first one, and while reading them in order would have made things a little clearer in terms of the background and the Gatekeepers Guild, not doing so didn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the story too much. Agatha herself I thought was a very likeable character, with a good deal of spunk, and not too much respect for the rules. The story is told in first person by Agatha. Though she is a fan of Christie, the way her mind works (sort of like the Mind Palace, which if I remember right is from the Sherlock TV series) and the case itself reminded me much more of Sherlock Holmes than Poirot. Some of what how she goes about solving her case also reminded me of Enid Blyton’s Findouters books (disguises and such). Liam and Brianna seem pretty likeable too, but I didn’t feel I got to see enough of them or at least them in action as much as we do (and obviously so) Agatha. The mystery itself, since I had Sherlock Holmes on my mind was something I could guess, the what at least, but still it was good fun. With the thread of her mother’s case continuing on, and of course another mystery to solve, this is a series I will definitely enjoy exploring. Till the next one comes, I still have the first to read. Great fun.

This book comes out on 7th March 2019!

Christmas for Everyone

Merry Christmas to everyone!!!

I haven’t written a poetry-based post for a bit, and had this one in mind for a while, which is rather “perfect” for the day and the season. I especially love the sentiment that it conveys. The poem is “Eddi’s Service” by Rudyard Kipling and appears in his book Rewards and Fairies (1910), which is the sequel to Puck of Pook’s Hill. It is set in A.D. 687.

The poem is about “Eddi, priest of St Wilfrid“, in a chapel at Manhood’s End. It is Christmas eve, and Eddi organises a midnight service for all that care to attend. But it is stormy night, and no one appears for the mass, although Eddi rings the bell. However, Eddi is neither disheartened not deterred.

“Wicked weather for walking,”

Said Eddi of Manhood End

But I must go on with the service

For such as care to attend.”

And so he begins the service by lighting the altar candles. Just as he is doing this, an old marsh donkey arrives, “Bold as a guest invited“, and as the storm gets stronger, water beating at the windows and splashing on the floor, another guest arrives, this time “a wet, yoke-weary bullock“.

Source: publicdomainvectors.org

Eddi observes his guests and thinks:

“How do I know what is greatest,

How do I know what is least?

This is my Father’s business,”

With this sentiment, Eddi proceeds with the service, narrating the story of Christ–of Bethlehem and the rider who rode to Jerusalem. His “audience” listens patiently, and does not stir, and only when the gale blows away, and day breaks, they leave the chapel together.

The Saxons, who have been keeping Christmas, but haven’t attended the mass, mock Eddi, but his belief still strong, he says,

“I dare not shut His chapel,

On such as care to attend.”

As I wrote already, I loved the sentiment that is in this poem, that all creatures great or small are the same in the creator’s eyes, or at least that we (humans) cannot know who “greater” or “lesser”, who is more “important” and who is not, and so our duty is to treat them all the same. At least, that’s a more general message that I feel we can take away from this, and one that is relevant to us as much today, since so many are rather callous when it comes to our fellow living creatures who are not the same as us. After all, they too are on this earth, and equally entitled to be here. If we (humans) consider ourselves so very superior to these “animals”, doesn’t it fall to us to make space for them, to let them live, rather than demonstrate our mastery over them or our disdain for them as being “lesser” creatures?

Eddi I think did get the point, and I hope more and more of us do too!

Find a little about the “real” St Wilfrid and his chapel, and Eddi here, and another post on this poem, here.

Have you read this poem before? What are your thoughts? Looking forward to hearing them!!!

Images: both from pexels.

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (36)

“The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over, and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries. “

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908)

Review: Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce

My thanks to Harper Collins UK and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

This is the second of the Immortals series (my review of book 1 is here) by Tamora Pierce. The one opens with the wolves that Daine once hunted with trying to reach her and thinking over the news they’ve received of her from other creatures of the forest. Daine, now fourteen, meanwhile is heading with her mentor/teacher, the mage Numair Salmalin, their horses including Cloud, and Kitten the dragon baby, towards the pack for they have sent for her help as their new home, Dunlath is in trouble. The two-feet there are cutting down all the trees, mining incessantly, chasing away prey making the place unliveable for them, and ultimately for themselves. When they get there however, they find that it isn’t only the animals who are in trouble. A family of local nobles,the lords of Dunlath, are plotting treason against King Jonathan, and switching loyalties. Here they are aided by a whole group of rogue mages, who have some very powerful magic at their command, and don’t seem to care who or what they destroy. Circumstances become such that Daine is left all alone with only her animal friends and some immortal ones in Dunlath. The only other human helping her at first is ten-year-old Lady Maura, younger sister of the Lady Yolane. Daine begins to learn and practice more of what her wild magic makes her capable of,and these new found powers and her friends are what help her face and defeat the “villains” of the piece.

If anything, I think I enjoyed this one even more than the first book. The first book obviously had to set out the background, and introduce us to the world that Daine lived in, and the friends she found in Tortall, but this one to me felt more rounded as a story. I enjoyed watching Daine, who spends much of the novel away from human company, explore her new powers or rather the new uses she discovers of her magic. This helps her not only to do things she couldn’t earlier but view the world through the perspectives of her different animal friends. This was an element I really enjoyed. Pierce does a great job of highlighting the various things—sounds, smells, sights—that different animals would notice, and making one (even the reader) feel that they were looking through the eyes and mind of the animal in question. The adventure elements for me were fairly exciting as well. But besides these, the book also had some important messages to give. It may be set in a fantasy world, but even there “humans”continue to behave as they do in real life, destroying their environment,surroundings, disrespecting other living creatures for what they think is their own gain.  The other was about needing to understand creatures/life that is different, human or animal, as life, as creatures/people who have thoughts, feelings, concerns, and who shouldn’t be judged as monsters or evil in an off-handed way. Here Maura, who is scared of some of Daine’s “friends” manages to shows Daine how she herself might be prejudiced unfairly against some others. Pierce manages to show us that even people who are “good” aren’t always flawless and may have their own prejudices and discriminatory attitudes that they need to address—another message extremely relevant for our world. Once again a wonderful read, in which I especially enjoyed all the animals and Daine’s interactions with them!

Halloween Read: The Great Ghost Rescue

Great Ghost Rescue

This was my pick for my Halloween read this year. Eva Ibbotson’s books (at least the couple I’ve read so far) feature witches and ghosts and ghouls with their stinks and spells, smells and sometimes even ‘bloody’ inclinations, but still remain light-hearted, fun reads, rather than ‘horror’ fiction. Most of them (the ghosts, I mean) are rather likeable, much more so than some humans. The Great Ghost Rescue was no different, and yet perhaps a more serious themed book than the others I’ve read by her. In this one, somewhat like the last one I read (Dial-a-Ghost), a family of ghosts find themselves homeless after many centuries, for modern humans can never seem to leave any place alone, or any one (human, animal, or ghost) to live their lives in peace, covering everything with concrete, noise, and garbage, and destroying any bit of nature they can lay their hands on. But luckily for this family, headed by the Gliding Kilt and his wife, the Hag, they meet a little boy at his school, Rick, who empathises with his fellow creatures and sets out to help them get a sanctuary for ghosts. Soon news of their ‘mission’ spreads all over, and various ghosts and other creatures begin to join them. The youngest of the ghost family, Humphrey is called Humphrey the Horrible, but is anything but horrible. But when their path to securing their sanctuary turns out to be riddled with far more danger than they had anticipated, it is Humphrey who has to act, to save his family, the other ghosts, and himself. (The actual story is somewhat different from the synopsis at the back of the book based on which I’d written about this book here.)

 

This was once again a fun read but much more than just an adventure story with ghosts. The author, as I read from her bio had moved to England from Vienna, from where her family had to flee during the Nazi regime, and this book certainly reflects those experiences. There are places where she expressly talks about people who are not wanted because they are different, but really the whole book is about that as well—that everyone, animal, human, even ghost or vampire-bat is entitled to a place where they can live securely and happily. These creatures may be different but perhaps the real horror is caused by humans who seem to keep destroying everything, animals’ habitats, food sources, open spaces, and then target the animals for whatever they do in their desperation; target those who are ‘different’ just for being so. Another point that stands out is how we judge others so readily, yet rarely evaluate our own actions.

 

But I am making it sound all serious—while these themes are indeed what stand out, this is also an adventure story, where there are ghosts of various sorts in need of a home, a perilous journey to be made to find that home and even a villain to be defeated to finally achieve it, and this book has all those elements and also some touches of humour.

 

Though more serious than what I had in mind for Halloween, this was still an enjoyable and fun read!