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Archive for the ‘Literature of War’ Category

I1413374964-8-origmagine each day wrapping your hair up in a lovely bun and then slipping a very tiny bible into your chignon?  Odd?  Well, there was a day when many young Christian women hid their bibles this way! In September 1685, in France, all Bible reading was forbidden and Christian homes were subject to search. French Protestants known as Huguenots were forced to keep their scriptures hidden and to worship in secret. I was privileged to get a little glimpse into the lives of this courageous minority on a recent visit to Provence, France while visiting with ICCP of Aix-en-Provence. While staying there with a gracious 93 year-old Huguenot gentleman, a Monsieur D’Cazenove, we were able to visit the Musée du Désert, where this fascinating and inspiring history is kept alive. And indeed it’s true that Huguenot women hid their very tiny bibles in their chignons!

This tiny bible measures just one inch high yet is very legible. Huguenot women hid them in their chignons.                                                                                   From Le Musée du Désert, Cevennes, France

The Huguenots were the fruit of the tide of the Reformation coming to France in the mid 16th century, and were devoted to reforming the church and the political institutions of their times.  Many noble and highly intellectual families joined this movement, but in a majority Catholic country where the Church was all powerful, persecution was inevitable. The most notorious incident occurred on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, when thousands of Huguenots were in Paris to celebrate the wedding of Henry of Navarre (a Huguenot) to Marguerite de Valois (a Catholic). The young King Charles IX, under the sway of his powerful mother, Catherine d’ Medici, ordered the massacre of all Huguenots.  Thousands died in Paris that day and tens of thousands all across France.

When Henry IV, a Huguenot known as Le Bon Roi–the Good King, came to the throne, he passed the Edict of Nantes (1598) granting religious freedom to Huguenots–one of Europe’s first IMG_2727documents to protect this fundamental right. However, 80 years later, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, and Huguenots were harassed out of all educated professions, arrested, tortured and imprisoned, their lands and properties confiscated.  Louis XIV  issued countless warrants for the arrest of Huguenots who refused to convert to Catholicism.  At left are just a few of King Louis’s numerous warrants persecuting Huguenots.  In these samples, agents of the King are instructed to destroy all the Huguenot churches, extinguish and suppress  their colleges, arrest their midwives, and to obtain their declarations as to whether they will convert  or die as Protestants.

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This barrel converted into a pop-up pulpit, but looked like an ordinary barrel when not in use.

It was particularly during this period that Huguenots became very creative in finding ways to worship in secret.  As a large majority lived in the Provence region, where there are thick forested areas and many caves and grottoes, the Huguenots often met secretly in caves to worship.  A home church or a church meeting in a factory might have a convertible pulpit, that when not in use looked like an ordinary wooden barrel, but converted quite ingeniously into a pulpit by a clever system of levers.  Goblets for communion wine could be converted to appear as ordinary looking candlesticks, and picture frames were designed so that bibles could be hidden between the mirror and the back of the frame.

Despite these subterfuges, countless Huguenots were arrested, tortured and put to death.  Over 5000 men were forced to slave on the galleys of the King, choosing that grim fate over giving up their faith. Marie Durand was arrested at age 19 and spent 38 years imprisoned because she refused to violate her conscience.

Remarkably, despite these tremendous hardships, the Huguenot people were known as the “people who sing.”  Their secret IMG_2802worship services were marked by their joyful singing of the scriptures set to music, particularly the psalms.  When I question our host, Monsieur d’Casenove, about this fact, he slips quietly into his centuries-old chateau and reemerges quickly holding an ancient book in his hand.  It is a psalmer, a very old book of the psalms set to music.  When I ask him how old it is, he turns to the copyright page, and the book had been printed in the 1550s.

The history of the Huguenot people is a rich, varied, and inspiring history of a people who fought, suffered, and died for freedom of conscience.  It is a history that has some bearing on American history too.  In my next post I will explore what Huguenot history has to do with Paul Revere, George Washington, and the Marquis de Lafayette!

 

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The chateau of Monsieur d’Casanove in the Cevennes region of France, an area rich in Huguenot history.

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. . . the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.~Pearl S. Buck

One of the topics of discussion during our soirée the Saturday before last was the way in which the dystopias of today–The Hunger Games, the Divergent trilogy etc., present disturbing scenes of violence between children.  While violence against children has always been a component of fairy tales, fantasy, science fiction etc., what the astute Samantha Riddering pointed out was the way in which that violence has traditionally been perpetrated by the evil adult antagonist.  Obviously, sometimes that antagonist was a monster, a dragon, an ogre, a wicked stepmother, or an evil Sméagol.  From  fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, to sophisticated Pulitzer-prize winning fictions like To Kill a Mockingbird,  violence against children is presented as the work of evil personified–the Big Bad Wolf to Bob Ewell respectively.  The difference in some of today’s young adult dystopias is how often  the ogres perpetrating evil against children are the children themselves. While these dystopias are the literary grandchildren of William Golding’s–The Lord of the Flies–the groundbreaking novel that first featured this disturbing literary trope, the nature of Golding’s brutal images did not popularize it to a youthful audience. In the US it Image result for hunger gamesonly sold a few thousand copies before going out of print. Today it is mandatory reading in high school. Unlike The Lord of the Flies, the trilogies of Divergent and Hunger Games, replete with graphic violence between children are wildly popular with young readers who seem inured to a level of violence that seems extreme.

Additionally layering the complexity of child-to-child violence is that the teen protagonists become hardened and highly skilled warriors perpetrating acts of war at a young age. Sometimes these actions involve gut-wrenching cruelty like the Divergent character Peter plunging a knife into Edward’s eye while he’s asleep. Though youth becoming skilled warriors isn’t new in children’s lit–Frodo and Sam Gamgee are young hobbits when they fight the evil forces of Mordor, and Peter and Edmund become warriors in Narnia–again, what is new is war between rival youth.  Perhaps the real-life counterpart is gang warfare, which would beg the question of how books like the trilogies mentioned may contribute to an already violent gang culture. Oh, but gang members don’t read, so not to worry.   I think it’s interesting to note that the film scene of Peter’s nocturnal knifing of Edward was cut from the movie.  Director Neil Burger denied that the scene was cut because it was too graphic, but rather because it “disrupted the flow of the story.”   Hmmm.  Gratuitous perhaps?

As I was finishing writing this my daughter Rebecca posted a wonderful blog entry on the “Loveliness of Reading Aloud” which I think you’ll enjoy.  She links in her article to another by Meghan Cox Gurdon which may further inspire the effort it takes to develop this practice in your home.  Gurdon is the children’s literature critic for the Wall Street Journal and as a mother of 5 has her finger firmly on the pulse of the kinds of books most parents want their children to enjoy.  For parents reading this that have YA readers, I think you’ll find her article on this genre enlightening.

For those that attended the soirée who might have thoughts they didn’t share that day or any others who would just like to comment on this topic, please feel free to do so below.  What are the thoughts ruminating around in your mind when you confront the issues of violence in children’s lit today? Let’s continue this discussion!  In the meantime I’ll close with this beautiful quote from Tolkien on the function of fairy-tale as it reminds us of the limitless power of the well-crafted tale to cultivate the best in the human heart.

The eucatastrophic tale [one with a happy ending] is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.  The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true endImage result for tolkien to any fairy-tale: this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist”, nor “fugitive.”  In its fairy-tale–or otherworld–setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.  It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, or sorrow or: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief. –Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (68-69).

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Dear Readers,

MadelineWelcome to another installment of Around the World with Newbery and Caldecott Part IV!  This post will explore just a few of the wonderful award-winning children’s books of France!  This is another preview to my upcoming Back-to-School Literature Soirée.  It is just a little over a week away, so if you’re interested, please visit here.

As a Francophile since my early 20s, when I spent nearly a year in Paris, I have returned many times to this fascinating country that holds so much of the world’s greatest art, architecture, cuisine, and natural beauty!  I love France for all of these things, but also for the pivotal part they played in helped the struggling American colonies to win their fight for independence from Great Britain.

Probably the most well-known and beloved children’s book about Paris is Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.  Winner of the Caldecott Honor in 1940, Madeline’s Rescue won the Caldecott Medal in 1954.  My friend and former professor, Anita Silvey has done a marvelous job of telling the background of these wonderful creations by Bemelmans here.

Another author of French tales beloved by American children is Claire Huchet Bishop, a French-born American who is best known for two9780590457071 Newbery Honor titles–All Alone, which tells the story of a French boy who herds cattle in the mountains and befriends a fellow herder in need.  His compassion leads to the healing of old rivalries in the village. booksPancakes-Paris, which is unfortunately out-of-print, tells the tale of a boy given a box of pancake mix by American GIs after WWII.  Set during the same period is Twenty and Ten, the story of French school children hiding Jewish children from the Nazis.

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson is the heartwarming story of Armand, a Parisian tramp who wants nothing to do with children.  But when three fatherless children “adopt” him, all kinds of adventures happen.  Readers will be charmed by the warmth and pathos of this story and by the tender illustrations of Garth Williams who you you will recognize as the beloved illustrator of the Little House on the Prairie series.  Winner of the Newbery Honor in 1959.

family-under-the-bridge Winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1993, Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully  tells the tale of a celebrated tightrope walker and his friendship with young Mirette.  While he teaches the devoted Mirette the art of tightrope walking, he learns some wonderful lessons too. IMG_3215 While there are many, many more wonderful titles that I haven’t touched on yet, I will conclude with a title of extraordinary beauty published during the Golden Age of children’s book illustration–the late nineteenth century.  Joan of Arc (1899) by Maurice Boutet de Monvel depicts in grand sweeping panoramas, the life of the devout French maid who led the beleaguered forces of her country to victory over England.  The artist’s devotion to the French heroine comes through his watercolor paintings with power and exuberance.  I will let the following pictures speak for themselves.

There will be lots more like this at my upcoming Rea’s Back-to-School Literature Soirée!  Hope you can join us!

boutet_monvel_panorama_01Jeanne_D_Arc_Boutet_de_Monvel_123453537667_8cfcd2fc1e_z

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Dear Readers,
Lon_po_poAs installment 3 of our Around the World with Caldecott and Newbery, today we visit China!  For the purposes of brevity and conciseness, I’ve entitled this book tour through children’s award-winning literature as Around the World with Caldecott and Newbery, but I also include other notable awards such as the British Carnegie Medal, the Kate Greenway medal etc.  Occasionally I will throw in a book that just happens to be a personal favorite, and though it may not have won a particular honor, has won credibility by virtue of its timelessness and appeal to children.

For the youngest reader, Lon Po Po:  A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young, won the Caldecott Medal in 1990 and turns the tale of the sweet but gullible Red Riding Hood on its head.  In this Chinese version, the wolf is outwitted by three discriminating and resourceful children!  Ed Young grew up in China and studied art here in the US.  He brings a richness and drama to this tale through his use of ancient Chinese artistic techniques combined with watercolors and pastels.  Also by Ed Young, Ye259382-Mh, Shen: A Cinderella Story from China won the Horn Book Honor in 1983.

The well-loved children’s book author, Jean Fritz, writes the story of her childhood in China in Homesick, My Own Story–winner of the Newbery Honor in 1983.  Born in China, Jean’s childhood is rich with vivid memories of her Chinese amahs–her nursemaids, family picnics on the Great Wall, being spat at and called a “foreign devil”, glorious summer vacations on the beach at Peitaiho, and the unrest of impending revolution.  Fritz’s memoir draws these stories into a beautiful mix woven with the longing of a young girl for her American “home”–a home she’s never seen.  Margot Tomes enhances the text with her delightfully whimsical line drawings.

The House of Sixty Fathers has to be one of my all-time favorite children’s books!  First of all, I love Meindert DeJong for his tender depictions of his childhood protagonists.  DeJong seems to remember poignantly how he thought as a child, and incorporates that sensibility into his characters.  Young Tien Pao has escaped Japanese invading forces on  his family’s sampan with his mother, father, three ducklings, the family pig, and his baby sister, Beauty-of-the-Republic.  DeJong uses beautiful alliteration to establish the setting.

9780060214814_xlgRain raised the river.  Rain beat down on the sampan where it lay in a long row of sampans tied to the riverbank. Rain drummed down on the mats that were shaped in the form of an arched roof over the middle of the sampan. It clattered hard on the four long oars lying on the top of the roof of mats.  The rain found the bullethole in the roof of the mats.”

DeJong was stationed in China as a US Army sergeant during WWII, and the book is based upon his friendship with a young Chinese boy at the time. What follows is the tender, yet gripping story of a young boy, separated from his family during  war, and of his relentless and courageous pursuit of them through hostile enemy territory.  His remarkable adventures will bring a tear to your eye.  Maurice Sendak’s tender illustrations enhance the text.  The author won the Newbery Honor for this book in 1957.Young+Fu

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman won the Newbery Medal in 1933 and concerns thirteen-year-old Fu, who comes from the country to Chungking with his widowed mother, where the bustling city offers adventure and his apprenticeship to a coppersmith.  Set in the turbulent era of the 1920s, the author has drawn an authentic depiction based upon her own experiences as a missionary to China.

The Kite Rider by Geral9780066238753_p0_v1_s260x420dine McCaughrean won a Horn Book Fanfare award (2003) a American Library Association award as well as 2 British awards, for its intricately plotted tale of a 13th century Chinese boy who becomes a kite-rider.   Kite-riding was believed to predict the fortune or demise of a sea voyage and boys and men were sent up on large kites for this purpose.  After Haoyou’s father is killed kite-riding,  the boy takes up the profession in order to support his mother.  His world is beset by the treachery of the man responsible for his father’s death, and his wicked uncle who forces his mother to labor relentlessly to pay his gambling debts.  His adventures take him all over the empire, and even to the tents of the great Kublai Khan.

This is just a taste of the books that will be covered in my upcoming Back-to-School Literature Soirée, which you can register for here.  Hope to see you there!

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imagesToday, we will visit Korea on our world  tour through literature! A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park can broaden a literature approach to Medieval studies by taking the reader to 12th century Korea as viewed through the life of an orphan boy by the name of Tree-ear.  The orphan motif is an oft repeated literary device that draws the reader into the story through pathos, and the author doesn’t fail in her use here. Tree-ear’s story is set firmly in the world of the highly skilled pottery artisans of Korea who first invented celadon pottery.  Tree-ear learns their delicate but highly painstaking craft under a master potter and then must deliver the master’s works for a royal commission.  The journey takes him through danger from both man and beast and teaches Tree-ear perseverance and loyalty.  Winner of the Newbery Medal in 2002, this book not only teaches what medieval life was like for the poor, but also teaches the value of friendship and compassion.

So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins won the American Library Association Award in002112 1987 and tells a story of Korea, but with a twist. The young protagonist Yoko and her family are part of Japanese occupation forces in Korea (Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945), and must flee Korea when Japan begins to lose the war.  Their harrowing escape and their attempts to pass themselves off as Koreans makes for a gripping and moving work based on the author’s own experiences.  Though Japan was the aggressor–and often a cruel and tyrannical one–what Yoko’s tale shows is how women and children are victimized by war, and must summon almost superhuman courage and sacrifice to help those they love.

The last award-winning book on Korea is Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul images-1Choi and is the author’s own biography of her childhood growing up in Korea during the same period as the title above.  Sook’s family are involved in resistance movement, and her brothers have been sent to labor camps, while her heroic mother keeps the family factory running and does everything in her power to protect her young female factory workers from the Japanese forces.  When war separates Sook from her mother, she and her little brother must escape by themselves.  Their journey is heroic, touching and miraculous!

This is just another brief installment on our Around the World tour through award-winning children’s literature which I will be covering in my upcoming Back-to-School Literature Soiree!  If interested, go here.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe's home from 1852-1863

Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s home in Andover  from 1852-1863

I have the fortune to have a dear friend who lives just a couple doors down from 80 Bartlet Street in Andover, Massachusetts.  While visiting there recently, I was delighted to learn that this address was the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe.  The author lived there just after the publication of her seminal novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Indeed, she applied her first royalty check from the novel toward the renovation of the home for her large family.  Her husband, Calvin Stowe, taught Sacred Literature at Andover Theological Seminary, and it was this position that precipitated the move of the family there.

Born into a notable family devoted to faith and education, one of the ironies of Harriet’s childhood, is that when she was born, her father was disappointed that she was a girl!  A preacher himself, her father wanted sons who could follow in his footsteps, which a number did. While a few of the Beecher sons made names for themselves during their lifetimes, it was Harriet who had the most dramatic and lasting impact upon the fate of the natthe_annotated_uncle_toms_cabin.large_-1ion and upon the history of the world. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a runaway best-seller, selling 10,000 copies in the United States in its first week; 300,000 in the first year; and in Great Britain, 1.5 million copies in one year. It was subsequently translated into 60 languages and impacted other nations still under the bondage of serfdom and slavery.

Gazing at the place Harriet called home for eleven years, I enjoyed imagining the happy chaos that must have often filled the halls and chambers of this lovely stone dwelling. It is easy to romanticize the life of someone from the past, but I know better than to do so with her.  Harriet has always been an inspiration for me, because, not only was she the mother of seven children, but she often parented alone, as her husband was sickly and given to melancholy and depression.  Because of her husband’s frequent illnesses, financial matters were always a concern, which was another of Harriet’s motivations for writing, as she was often forced to supplement the family income.  But despite the tremendous pressure upon her as wife and mother, she found time to devote to her passionate desire for abolition, and became a driving force through the dramatic words that flowed from her pen.  So convincing was her characterization in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that Americans all over the country were able to identify vicariously with the suffering slaves and their brave liberators.  This identification became a catalyst for change, and through the power of Harriet’s pen the nation grew ripe for emancipation.

When the AmeriHarriet-Beecher-Stowe-and-the-Beecher-Preachers-9780399226663can Civil War broke out in 1861 Stowe wrote “It was God’s will that this nation—the North as well as the South—should deeply and terribly suffer for the sin of consenting to and encouraging the great oppressions of the South”—(The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe).  It was to her a direct breach of the second great commandment as she noted, ” . . . the enslaving of the African race is a clear violation of the great law which commands us to love our neighbor as ourself”.

If you have never enjoyed the moving experience of reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, consider picking it up as a summer read-aloud.  Though the language can seem a bit archaic at first, a little diligence will be rewarded handsomely, as the dramatic plot will quickly pull readers in. Most importantly, the lessons of compassion, empathy, and justice will linger long in listener’s hearts and minds.

A wonderful companion to the study of Stowe’s novel is Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Beecher Preachers by Jean Fritz. The stories of the rambunctious household that Harriet grew up in, and the tales of her own seven children, may have a familiar ring to contemporary families who have made home education a choice and a lifestyle.  In the often humdrum duties of daily life, it is easy to forget that sometimes, future greatness can be hidden in an unlikely package.  Though her father and her culture could not have imagined it, Harriet’s preaching turned her world upside down and helped bring justice to untold millions.

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Lincoln enjoying a chat with Union soldiers.

Lincoln enjoying a chat with Union soldiers.

When my son Solomon was studying architecture in Florence during his college years, his homecoming after a year abroad was a much anticipated event for our family.  My most distinctive memory driving up to San Francisco International Airport that day, was my youngest daughter’s comment, “Mom, I can’t wait to hear Sol’s laugh.  I’ve missed it so much.” It struck me then how much we are defined by our laughter or lack thereof.

In Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, the director brings out what is a seminal part of Lincoln’s character–his humor.  Previous films have tended to depict the solemn Lincoln bearing the weight of a nation at war upon his shoulders, and while it is true that he did do that, and felt deeply the anguish of that responsibility, it was partly his love of laughter that enabled him to get through that tumultuous time.  What Spielberg does so brilliantly is display the complex and multifaceted character of Lincoln.  It wasn’t as though Lincoln wasn’t grieving with a nation watching the slaughter of tens of thousands of its sons–he was grieving with them because he knew their grief very personally.  Lincoln had buried his beloved Willie (11) during his tenure in office, and had lost his son Edward (4) in 1850. Lincoln bore the nation’s grief and carried their sorrows.

But part of Lincoln’s genius lay in his ability to laugh in times of loss and despair.  Much of Lincoln’s humor was self-deprecating (see an earlier post on this here), and he loved to poke fun at human foibles, contradictions and paradox.  Amidst the strain of countless people vying for a piece of him, Lincoln nearly always found time to spin a yarn, recall a humorous anecdote, or crack a witty joke.  From his cabinet members, to his fellow politicians, his family, and the telegraph boy in the midnight War Office, Lincoln lightened their load just a tad, and thereby bestowed worth and dignity on each individual.

Reinhold Neibuhr–the theologian of the late 19th and early 20th century, said “Humor is a prelude to faith and/ Laughter is the beginning of prayer.”  There is a paradoxical connection between humor and the divine.  Somehow, within our ability to recognize our conflicted natures, find humor in our contradictions, and accept the conundrums of life, there is the mysterious working of grace.  I think Lincoln understood that.

Be sure to see this film.  Take your children to see it. And in 2013 let’s purpose to live with a bit more humor and a lot more grace.  Happy New Year.

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