Illustration from Wind In the Willows by Inga Moore
The Joy of Springtime
Mole emerged from his underground home and "found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow...‘This is fine!’ he said to himself. ‘This is better than whitewashing!’ The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow..."
From The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
The illustration of Mole coming into the sunlight is by Arthur Rackham.
An Era of Tea Parties, Picnics, and Classic Children's Books
Edwardian England (1901-1914), often viewed with nostalgia for its gardens, tea parties and picnics by the river, was a time of prosperity for many. There was a growing middle class, and more wealth from the industrial revolution as well
as England's enormous colonial empire. It was also a time, especially for the aristocracy and the wealthy business class, of great self satisfaction..."the sun never sets on the British Empire."
This time period (1901- 1914) also saw a proliferation of outstanding children's books and is often called the Golden Era of children's books. Among them were these classics: The Wind in the Willows, Peter Rabbit, Peter Pan, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, and The Railway Children. The Edwardian influence can also be found in later books, including, notably, the Hobbit, Winnie-the-Pooh, Mary Poppins and Harry Potter.
It's hard to imagine the energy that writers, as well as the reading public, must have felt from such an incredible array of children's books (and the play of Peter Pan). And for children, it was a true bonanza. It all ended with the debacle of World War One.
The illustration from the Wind in the Willows is by E.H. Shepard.
"In hindsight these books seem to reflect the long, sunny afternoon of Edwardian England, a moment of arrested innocence before the outbreak of the Great War. Many of them also yearn for a rural, preindustrial England that was already vanishing. Part of their appeal is that they’re nostalgic, as we are, for childhood itself, or for a simpler past that seems to embody childhood virtue."
From an article by Charles McGrath in the NYTimes.
The illustration is by E.H.Shepard.
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame's wonderfully well written book, originated with stories that Grahame told to his troubled young son, Alastair (nickname, Mouse). The boy suffered from poor health, a blind eye, and apparently had some type of emotional disturbance. He committed suicide at 20 by lying on train tracks. At the time, Alastair was a student at Oxford. This was an horrendous event and Grahame lost his desire to write.
When Grahame was a child, his mother died and his father became an alcoholic; Kenneth and his three siblings were sent to live with their caring grandmother in the bucolic village of Cookham. As a boy and young man, he had deep feelings for the meadows, hills, and the river flowing through the countryside. This connection to the natural world was later reflected in his writings. He pursued a successful career in banking. During this time, he also wrote successful stories for children including the Reluctant Dragon.
He suffered a bizarre experience (1903) when a deranged man entered his bank (The Bank of England), and not finding the manager to vent his rage, attempted to murder Kenneth Grahame. He fired three shots, all of which missed, directly at Grahame. In 1908, he retired from the bank, published The Wind in the Willows, and moved back to the pastoral world of Cookham where he continued to write for children until his son's demise. Throughout the years, it appears that he found solace in the natural world.
The illustration of Grahame is by John Singer Sargent.
The Irrepressible Mr Toad
Mr Toad... wonderful parody of the wealthy self-satisfied British landed gentry. Myopic, unaware of the lives of others and in denial about how his behavior affects others, he is a brilliant creation. Despite shortcomings, all his friends forgive him, and so do we, the readers and children who visit Grahame's book. He is jolly fellow, a great and generous host and totally irresponsible. He is like a child without boundaries.
The illustration is by Charles Van Sandwyk.
An Idyllic Celebration of a Time That Never Was
"The imaginative force of Grahame's writing is remarkably vivid, and can be compared to the likes of Carroll and Lear in his creation of a fantastical world that follows a clear set of values. Here, perhaps unsurprisingly, those values are those of the conservative gentleman that he was...Of course, all must end well, and so the book ends stirringly (explicitly inspired by the climax of The Odyssey) with the villainous weasels routed from Toad Hall, where they have taken occupation, and the idle gentry once again taking hold. Rather different things were to take place across the world within the next decade, making this remarkable book's hazy, idyllic celebration of a time that never was both an elegy for a bygone age and a fascinating work of imaginative genius."
Excerpted from a sparkling and incisive article in the Guardian by Alex Larman.
The illustrations are by Inga Moore.
Our default mode of childhood
"In many ways, modern children's literature remains an Edwardian phenomenon. This period defined the ways in which we still think of children's books and of the child's imagination. During its few years, the age produced a canon of authors and works that are still powerfully influential in the field. ...
Our default mode of childhood, if you like, remains that decade or so before the First World War; the time between the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and the assassination at Sarajevo in 1914, the time when writers looked back over loss and could barely anticipate the end of the old order."
Excerpted from Seth Lerer's Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
The chapter entitled Pan in the Garden from Seth Lerer's book on Children's Literature, and his Introduction to The Annotated Wind In The Willows were prime influences for this blog.
The illustration from Winnie the Pooh is by E.H. Shepard.
From Tea Parties to Trenches...The End of the Edwardian Era
World War One changed the lives of many... Rudyard Kipling, Nobel Prize winner and extremely popular author, including, during the Edwardian era, the books Kim and Just So Stories, had a complete turn around in his thinking and writing. Where once Kipling was a jingoist and military enthusiast, the First World War, with its horrible massacres, bungling leadership, and the death of his son (Jack) in battle, totally changed his thinking. Here is an excerpt from a poem of bereavement that he wrote:
"Have you news of my boy Jack?"
Not this tide.
"When d’you think that he’ll come back?"
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
"Has any one else had word of him?"
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide..."
Here is a link to the poem, My Boy Jack
“The mission that I feel like I have is to figure out how you can tell the truth about how tragic and unfair life actually is without destroying hope.” -- from an interview in the NY Times with Oskar Eustis, artistic director of New York's renowned Public Theater.
The illustration is by Hieronymus Bosh.
The Extraordinary White Helmets Video
This is a documentary of valor and courage. It takes you into the mind-boggling world of the White Helmets, the Syrian men who risk their lives to save others...to save children and adults caught in the destruction caused by ruthless Russian and Syrian bombing, shelling, and rocketing of homes and hospitals. The documentary goes far beyond the violence into the hearts and minds of these men who devote themselves to saving others. It can be seen on Netflix. It won a 2017 Academy Award for best documentary. One of the people who made this film could not attend the Award ceremony because of Trump's travel ban. I hope the president and his associates see this film.
For readers who don't have Netflix, here is a link to see the White Helmets video via a one month free trial.
"I love this series of books and this first, Planet of the Dogs, sets the stage for those works that follow...This story borders between reality, a dream world, fantasy, fiction, reality and wonderful imagination...a first rate fantasy read, while at the same time addressing quite real problems and indeed, how to fix those problems... these books are excellent motivators, not only for reading, but for generally living life as it should be led. Finally, the entire work is almost irresistible to dog lovers." -- from a review by Don Blankenship, Good Books for Kids
Here is a link to read sample chapters of Planet of the Dogs
The illustration from Planet of the Dogs is by Stella Mustanoja McCarty.
The Quiet of The Woods
"These quiet hours in the dappled light of the greenwood, with my good dog beside me. It changes my world. It changes me...I pin my own hopes to the rustle of leaves, the murmur of water, the grace note of the birdsong overhead; to the ordinary, daily domestic act of rising in the morning and walking the dog. And to art, of course, but also to this. To the quiet of the woods."
An excerpt from author, editor, and painter Terri Windling's wonderful Myth and Moor blog. Here is the link to read more of Terri, the woods, and Tilly: Myth and Moor. The photo of Tilly is by Terri Windling.
Another Beauty and the Beast...
Emma Watson is excellent, the Computer Graphics are state of the art, and huge profits are rolling in; however, critics like Ty Burr of the Boston Globe are asking questions...
"The question, obviously, is why we need a new “Beauty and the Beast” in the first place. Even a reasonably sentient 8-year-old might ask as much if he or she has seen the 1991 animated Disney version...So we have the current wave of Disney remakes of classic Walt “properties”: ostensibly live-action but resting on oceans of CGI; upscale in terms of directors, cast, and approach. It can work, as witness the charming “Cinderella” (2015) and the dazzling “Jungle Book” (2016). Or it can feel secondhand and unnecessary — an ersatz 3-D theme park ride based on a beloved source — as does too much of “Beauty and the Beast.”....
I think the answer to the question is fundamental...Disney's primary role is to operate a business that makes money. Everything else follows.
Maria Tatar's blog, Breezes from Wonderland, has a bounty of fascinating information regarding Beauty and the Beast ranging from Disney to Zeus and Europa. Tatar's newest book is Beauty and the Beast: Tales about Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World. See the review -- below -- by Heidi Anne Heiner.
The illustration is by Anne Anderson.
My Life as a Zucchini, an Oscar Nominee With Depth and Soul
Saving a Dog...an excerpt from C.A. Wulff's blog, Up On The Woof
"There is nothing more joyous and grateful than a dog who has been saved. Dogs don’t keep those sorts of feelings to themselves, they want to share them. That dog becomes the most loving, faithful companion you can imagine. He will protect his new family in times of danger and comfort them in times of sadness. He will teach the children in the family to love and respect animals. Maybe knowing him will inspire a child to grow up to be a vet, or a zoologist. The dog will bring hours of laughter and joy to his people. He will keep them healthier in body, mind and spirit..."
Bookstores Stoke Trump Resistance With Action, Not Just Words by Julie Bosman NYTimes
"Ann Patchett, a novelist and an owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, said she had simply embraced the notion of her bookstore as a place where anyone could come, get information and exchange ideas. “I have written on the bookstore website about the election and the importance of reading and community and how more than ever we need to,” Ms. Patchett said. “That is outwardly as political as we’ve gotten.”
She echoed one of the biggest blows of Mr. Trump’s election for people in the literary world: the realization that the new president is not much of a reader. That is a stark contrast to former President Barack Obama, a devoted reader, writer and frequent visitor of independent bookstores while he was in office. “Now more than ever, books are so important,” Ms. Patchett said. “The only way we’re going to get out of this in the larger sense is through education.”
"The literary fairy tale became an acceptable social symbolic form through which conventionalized motifs, characters, and plots were selected, composed, arranged, and rearranged to comment on the civilizing process and to keep alive the possibility of miraculous change and a sense of wonderment.”
― Jack Zipes --
Heidi Anne Heiner, blogger of Sur La Lune, and herself the author of Beauty and the Beast, Tales From Around the World, has written a positive and very informed article/book review about Maria Tatar's new book, Beauty and the Beast, Classic Tales About Animal Brides and Grooms from Around World. Here is an excerpt:
"In this fascinating volume, preeminent fairy tale scholar Maria Tatar brings together tales from ancient times to the present and from a wide variety of cultures, highlighting the continuities and the range of themes in a fairy tale that has been used both to keep young women in their place and to encourage them to rebel, and that has entertained adults and children alike. With fresh commentary, she shows us what animals and monsters, both male and female, tell us about ourselves, and about the transformative power of empathy.
The Human Canine Connection
The benefits of the human canine connection continue to help people in a multitude of situations from veterans with PTSD to school children learning how to read. A man named Mike Callahan has developed a site that describes in some detail the many ways in which service dogs as well as therapy dogs enable people to benefit. He notes the special qualities of service dogs as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here is a link to his site: CompanionAnimals
The Yelodoggie Search
We believe that Why Am I, C.A. Wulff's wonderful new Yelodoggie book should have a big marketing push and wide distribution. Kids 4-8 love it and we are hoping it will be the beginning of a series. Accordingly, we are searching for a publisher who will also love the book, embrace its potential, and launch it into the world.
Why Am I is a joyous Yelodoggie book that helps children recognize and appreciate differences and to embrace that which is unique in each of us.
The Planet Of The Dogs Series
To read sample chapters of any book in the series, visit PlanetOfTheDogs
The Planet Of The Dogs series (including Castle In The Mist and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale) is available on the Internet through independent bookstores, Barnes&Noble, Amazon, Powell's, Walmart, Kobo, Inktera, Scribd, and Tolino.