Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.–Shakespeare, Sonnet 18
Well, summer’s lease is nearly over, and despite our wish that it could linger just a bit longer, school days will shortly be upon us! So, to give us all a boost (myself included), I am hosting a “Back to School” Literature Soirée on Saturday, September 8. I will cover more literary analysis, but this time we will look at how to analyze historical literature within the context of the heroic quest. This will be a fun adventure as we consider how the heroes and heroines of the eras of exploration, discovery, and colonization provide examples of heroic archetypes fulfilling their own unique destinies.
I will present an overview of the best historical works for children covering the period of the early 1600s up through the Civil War. The concentration will be early American History, but some world history will naturally be a part of that. So roughly speaking, here is how the day should go:
9:30-10 am: Arrival and get acquainted with a cup of coffee or tea
10 am-10:30: a brief session will look at current statistics of American student’s knowledge of history and literature as well as the why’s and wherefore’s of the “notebook approach”
10:30-11:30 am: the best children’s literature of Early American Exploration, Discovery, and Colonization
11:30 am-noon: Analyzing historical literature using the elements of the heroic quest (definition and overview), anthropomorphism, the orphaned child literary trope, and others! (not to worry, I will clearly define all of these before setting you out on your own).
Noon-1:45: Working lunch applying literary analysis to various works of historical literature. This time we will work in pairs to save time
Our Paris holiday continues, and as the days have been so full, and exacting (I’ve worn through 2 pairs of shoes just walking the incredible stone streets of Paris in 3 1/2 weeks!), I’ve had little time to blog on some remarkable adventures. I hope to post a few more items this week. The other day, I discovered that at Musée des Arts Décoratifs (adjacent the Louvre) they were hosting a special exhibit to Babar, in celebration of his 80th birthday! As this blog is devoted to children’s literature in all its aspects, I thought it were be of interest to share what Katie and I learned on our visit.
What I didn’t know, was that Babar was actually the creation of Cécile de Brunhoff (wife of Jean), a pianist in Paris, who told her two sons a story of a little elephant whose mother is shot by hunters and moves to Paris. As Jean de Brunhoff was an artist, the boys asked their father to draw pictures of the elephant, and the story was born. Jean de Brunhoff’s uncles were publishers, and decided to print the books on the characteristic heavy stock paper, and in 1931 the books became an immediate success.
Jean de Brunhoff went on to write 6 more Babar books, but sadly, he died quite young, at the age of 37 of tuberculosis. So it was that his son Laurent, upon becoming an artist himself, decided to continue the marvelous stories of Babar, and he continues to this day.
One of the delightful aspects of the exhibit was seeing the original black and white drafts of the books, with either Jean’s or Laurent’s expert cursive penmanship neatly laid out on large graph paper. This was followed by the same page in full color with the printer’s markings for layout and so on. As a publisher, these initial drafts give me great pleasure, I’m not sure why, except that in seeing them, it brings to mind how each book is such an exacting work of attention to detail, careful craft and a bit of whimsy too. Here are two examples:
Our visit came full circle when we saw two beautiful illustrations that inserted Babar into the very stream of our cultural experience in Paris. The first was Laurent de Brunhoff’s depiction of Celeste as “Liberty Leading the People” the immortal work of Eugene Delacroix’s masterpiece (La Liberté guidant le peuple) which has so many reverberations of the human pursuit of liberty and justice. This is the classic “barricade” scene depicted so poignantly in Victor Hugo‘s Les Misérables and the young boy on the right may be the inspiration for the loveable character of Gavroche in the novel. Having just finished reading this wonderful work with the girls in preparation for our trip makes the painting all the more memorable. De Brunhoff’s work follows and invites the young child to join in the sentiment of the passion for liberty that is nascent in the heart of young children whether they can conceptualize it or not. Delacroix’s work was also the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty, the gift of France commemorating the friendship of the two countries in 1886.
And finally, as Katie and I have had the privilege of doing some research on Notre Dame de Paris, the Gothic cathedral at the center of so much of French history and culture, we were delighted to see that Babar also recognized the importance of this icon of French faith and devotion. Here Babar and his family visit Notre Dame from the vantage of the Pont de l’Archevêché, which we’ve enjoyed many times on our tramps around this wonderful City of Light! Hope you enjoy our travels with Babar and all! À bientôt“!
Many of you are aware that in May, the Great Homeschool Convention is coming to California for the first time. These regional conventions are the “new kid on the block”, as far as home education events go, and around the country are successfully garnering great attendance, energy, and excitement!
At this time in home schooling history, when the needs of families are more and more diverse, these larger regional events have managed to breath new life into homeschooling symposiums and have attracted big name speakers from a broad range of perspectives regarding education. They also offer a dynamic teen track and a children’s convention as well. All of these options add up to a breath of fresh air to us, and we are excited to be a part of this new event.
I will be a featured speaker, and will be presenting twice in the course of the weekend, and of course, Beautiful Feet Books will be there to serve you with all of our products related to history, science, music and geography through literature. At the time of this posting, the topics and speaker schedule has not yet been finalized, but I will keep you informed as soon as that information is available.
Here’s the info: The Great Homeschool Convention, May 24-26, 2012, Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, CA. Here is a direct link. We look forward to seeing you at this exciting new event, and do hope you’ll stop by our booth and say hello!
Since the beginning of recorded history, war has defined the story of mankind in profound ways. Man’s propensity for war reflects not only his fallen nature but also the sublime heights to which he can rise in selfless acts of courage and heroism. No wonder then, that entire periods of history are often characterized by the wars that were fought and by the literature created by those seeking to ascribe meaning to these times of tremendous upheaval.
One of the earliest epics known to mankind, the Iliad is the poet Homer’s account of the final year of the decade-long Trojan War. The Iliad is a study in human nature, the capricious nature of the Greek gods, and the immutable quest for immortality through military glory. From this enduring epic many of our western notions about war derive their essence. For instance, the Trojan hero, Hector wrestles with whether or not the war he wages against the Greeks is a just war, since it was instigated by his brother Paris’s ill-fated dalliance with Helen, the wife of the Greek hero, Menelaus. In reality, Hector has little choice, as he either fights or watches the destruction of his city. When his beloved wife Andromache begs Hector to leave the battle and return to her and their young son, the scene is one of the most heart wrenching in literature; echoing the sublime tragedy repeated every time a soldier dies defending his homeland. The profound beauty and enduring relevance of the Iliad rests upon the ways this epic presents the various faces of war through the Greek and Trojan heroes as well as the impact upon their wives, their families, and their societies.
The battles and military engagements of the Old Testament patriarchs also reflect universal themes of war, but with a key difference. While the heroes of the ancient Greek and Roman works battled for immortality through military glory, the military engagements of the Israelites are purposed by God in his plan to establish a chosen people to reflect his glory and prepare a people for the coming of his Son–the one who would hail as the Prince of Peace. God rejected the warrior King David in building the Temple because he had “shed blood abundantly and had made great wars”; the King of Glory comes as the peacemaker–he comes to a war torn world to bring “peace on earth, good will to men” (1 Chr. 22:8, Luke 2:14).
Wars of the Old World
Wars that are depicted in great works of literature for mature readers (high school) include War and Peace by the Russian author and patriot, Leo Tolstoy. One of the world’s finest works, this tome treats the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812 and though fictional, presents over 150 historical characters. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo depicts the uprisings of the French Republicans in 1832 as students sought to overthrow the French monarchy. The splendor of Hugo’s work is that within this beautifully crafted novel is a powerful tale of redemption. Sentenced to nineteen years in prison for stealing a piece of bread for his sister’s starving child, when finally released, the embittered Jean Valjean is redeemed through the kindness and mercy of a humble parish priest. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens opens in 1775, and in classic Dickensian style throws light upon issues of class, injustice, and redemption against the drama, intrigue and bloodshed of the French Revolution.
Wars of the New World
A Caldecott Honor book of 1950, America’s Ethan Allen by Holbrook and Ward tells the life story of the “Green Mountain Boy” Ethan Allen, who fought in both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. For middle-grade readers, Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes depicts a prideful silversmith’s apprentice and his coming-of-age amidst the turbulent days leading to the war for Independence. For younger readers, America’s Paul Revere by Esther Forbes presents the life of the gifted silversmith and patriot and the pivotal role he played in America’s struggle. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire present primary readers with the stories of two of America’s most important founders and the service they rendered their young country. Those who have enjoyed the work of David McCullough in his Pulitzer Prize-winner, John Adams, will enjoy Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie Bober, as the author explores the amazing role Abigail played as wife, counsel, and encourager to her patriot husband.
The Civil War has been immortalized in far too many works to cover here, but a few noteworthy ones include: Killer Angels by Michael Sharra, another Pulitzer prize-winner. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane is the first novel to wrestle with the shame of the soldier who turns coward upon the battlefield, a common occurrence, yet one not previously addressed in literature. Crane’s depiction of the agonized mental state of the young soldier, was a sea change in literature, and led the way for other novels to follow. Two other Civil War novels for middle and junior high level are Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith and Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. Both Newbery award-winning novels present true-to-life depictions of teen protagonists facing the conflicted reality of Northern versus Southern sentiments and the ways in which these affect their families. In Bull Run by Paul Fleischman, Northerners, Southerners, generals, couriers, dreaming boys, and worried sisters describe the glory, the horror, the thrill, and the disillusionment of the first battle of the Civil War. Undying Glory: The Story of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment by Clinton Cox tells the inspiring story of the first black Union regiment under the heroic and noble Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.
Wars of the Modern World: The Bloodiest Century
The twentieth-century was mankind’s bloodiest in history. The scale of human tragedy and horror was ushered in by the rise of communism, socialism and Nazism and compounded by the dawn of atomic weapons, the horrors of Stalin’s Russian gulag, Hitler’s Nazi death camps, and Mao Zedong’s wholesale slaughter of untold millions of Chinese. While none of these topics are approached with relish, these are tales that must be told and knowing the best works is essential.
Works addressing World War I include: Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front; like The Red Badge of Courage before it, deals with the horror and ignominy of war from the perspective of young German soldiers. Two other works dealing with this period are: The Yanks are Coming: America in World War I and Stalin: Russia’s Man of Steel by the award-winning Albert Marrin. Marrin’s willingness to approach these topics specifically for the young adult reader, is commendable in itself; parents who are committed to their children knowing these stories will profit from his works.
Albert Marrin has also written about World War II and both Hitler and Victory in the Pacific are engagingly written and will educate students far better than the best text book. A tender and sweet story to read to the intermediate aged child is The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert Dejong. Set in China during the Japanese occupation, young Tien Pao becomes separated from his family behind Japanese lines. His desperate search for his family and his fortune in being taken in by American soldiers makes for a satisfying and uplifting story. The affect of the American bombing of Hiroshima is told in a moving and provocative work entitled Hiroshima by John Hersey. Told through the first-person accounts of six survivors of the bombing, Pulitzer prize-winning author Hersey puts a human face upon one of history’s most cataclysmic events. His follow-up on his six survivors 40 years after Hiroshima makes a moving epilogue to this book.
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom will inspire readers with the Ten Boom’s selfless devotion to helping their hunted Jewish neighbors during the German occupation of Holland. Secreting their neighbors in specially designed hiding places earns the Ten Booms betrayal, arrest, and imprisonment at a notorious Nazi concentration camp. Despite the horror and deprivation of their experience, Corrie triumphs through forgiveness of her enemies.
The Korean War has been covered by three notable authors whose work I highly recommend. For high-school level, Richard Kim has written a moving memoir of his childhood in Korea while his country is under Japanese occupation. Lost Names presents a devoted Christian family, the terror and deprivations of daily life under a ruthless regime, and the power of integrity, courage, and honor in Korea’s darkest hour. So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins is the story of a young Japanese girl who grows up in Korea where her family is stationed as part of the Japanese occupation. After the surrender of Japan, Yoko, her mother and sister must escape through hostile territory. The Year of Impossible Good Byes by Sook Nyul Choi is the true story of a young Korean girl who lives through separation from her family, endless treks through dangerous territory, deprivation and narrow escapes. Her tenacity, courage and faith are an inspiration.
This brief article can hardly do justice to the multitude of classic and historical works delving into the countless wars that have made up such a significant part of the record of mankind. Hopefully, the list above will acquaint you with treasures new and old, and enrich and enhance your studies of these important eras of history.
Rea Berg is passionate about children's books and has been republishing classic and historical children's literature for the last 30 years through her company Beautiful Feet Books. She also designs guides for teaching elementary and secondary students history using award-winning classic and historic literature. She holds both an undergraduate degree in English from Simmons College, Boston as well as a graduate degree in children's literature.