Saturday, July 31, 2010


First of all, I have to admit that this post is a little late--I wrote it early on in the month (and I was proud for having done it in such a timely manner), but then life happened, and it is now in the late evening hours on the last day of the month. The last day of the month wouldn't be such a horrible time to write a post if it weren't this particular post: My Childhood Challenge is to re-read one book from my childhood years per month (and blog about it). I very nearly missed my update on the challenge for the month. If only my schedule could operate around my blog posting...

This month, I chose to re-read one of the Mandie books by Lois Gladys Leppard. I loved the Mandie books when I was younger, and I owned quite a few from the series. My favorite of all the Mandie books was book #9: Mandie and the Hidden Treasure.
From My Memory
When I was 8, my family planned a road trip to Texas; for the road trip, I was able to get a new book. My mom took me to a Christian bookstore in Jefferson City and let me pick out any book I wanted from the shelves. The book that jumped out at me was Mandie and the Hidden Treasure. I was immediately attracted to the cover (shown above) because it featured three things that fascinated me: a Native American (I have, for a long time, been drawn into the culture and history of Native Americans), clothes that depicted a historical setting (i.e., the story took place a long time ago), and the words "hidden treasure" in the title. I think I fell in love with the book long before I even opened it to read the first page. It didn't matter to me that the book wasn't the first one in the series, as most the series that were published during the late 80s for younger readers were series that didn't have to be read from the beginning to end. In fact, I didn't start at book 1 for any of the series I read during my younger years.

During our family road trip that year, I sat in the fifth wheel with my sister as we drove to Texas (something I'm sure is highly illegal these days). We sat on opposite sides of the little kitchen table in the RV, bouncing down the highway, and I devoured the book. After reading the book, I became obsessed with finding a hidden treasure of my own and, within a year after finishing the book, became very attached to an old dilapidated building partially hidden in the woods that I saw on every trip to Jefferson City (we lived about 45 minutes away from Jefferson City and did all our "big city" shopping there). Every time I saw the building, it inspired me to daydream about my own adventures and what treasures I might find hidden in it. The daydreams usually ended up with me finding a locket: I remember there was a locket in Mandie and the Hidden Treasure, which makes me think that a locket is what was buried and was the hidden treasure Mandie looked for.

I loved the book as a kid, and I was excited to re-read it when I picked it up at the beginning of the month.

After Re-Reading
Sometimes I forget how redundant books can be that are meant for young readers--important details get repeated to help young readers keep up with the storyline. While that repetition is good for young readers, it can drive seasoned readers bonkers. If you are an adult wanting to read the Mandie books for the first time, I will warn you that you will need to skim in quite a few areas to get over the repetition. For example, the book starts out with three characters (Mandie, Joe, and Sally), who have found an old map that claims it leads to a buried treasure. The characters talk about the map, the locations on the map, and the distances between those locations as they are marked out on the map. In two pages, the directions are repeated three times. I don't remember ever having problems with the writing style of the Mandie books when I was younger, so I'm assuming the repetition didn't bother me then.

When I posted about re-reading Sign of the Beaver, I found it interesting that my one clear memory of the book had little to nothing to do with the overall storyline of the book. The same thing happened with this book: The locket I so fondly remembered played a minute role in the book and was not the hidden treasure Mandie was tracking down. That goes to show how memories are not pristine.

I have to admit that I was a little let down when I finished Mandie and the Hidden Treasure. The re-reading didn't live up to my expectations that had been built based on my original love for the Mandie books. The book wasn't well written, but its storyline did focus on topics that still intrigue me (who doesn't dream of finding an old map that will lead to a forgotten treasure?). I can see why I liked the book when I was younger, but the writing was a major roadblock to my enjoyment of the book as a more mature reader.

While I was disappointed, I did not--and still do not--regret re-reading the book. I don't have any immediate plans to re-read any of the other Mandie books, but I also don't have any plans to get rid of any of the Mandie books still gracing my bookshelves. I love the books for what they were--they were what I needed when I was younger to encourage my budding 'joie de lire.' Even the disappointment of not being blown away by the book as an adult reader cannot erase my memories of the joy I got when I read and re-read the books when I was younger.

Happy reading!

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Narnian Character that Won My Heart

While reading The Chronicles of Narnia, I encountered a character that quickly found a way into my heart and entered my top list of favorite literary characters. Perhaps (if you've read the books), you're wondering if I fell in literary love with Lucy or Aslan or dear Mr. Tumnus or Digory or any other number of fine characters you meet on your reading journey through Narnia. The answer to all the above is "No, that's not the one." This post is dedicated to my personal favorite Narnian figure: Puddleglum.

First, how could you not have at least a little crush on someone with a name like Puddleglum? Say it out loud a few times, and maybe you'll feel the same whimsical attachment I feel for the name alone. Then add to that a character whose appearance is so awkward that he has to be lovable, and you've got the makings of a memorable character.

Puddleglum, as created by Donna Sims

Puddleglum's name and appearance aside, his character is unassuming, yet valiant. Though he thinks nothing of himself (he is the humblest of humbles), he is the first to step into a dangerous situation to protect those he's with. While his motives for doing so are often along the lines of "It doesn't matter if anything bad happens to me," I felt a certain fierce loyalty he had for his traveling companions--even when he himself was scared beyond scared, he took care of his friends. I won't get into describing too many of the situations he and his friends find themselves in because there may be readers out there who haven't yet read the books but plan on reading them sometime in the future--I don't want to give away all the good stuff from the story Puddleglum plays a part in.

Puddleglum, as drawn by Dawn D. Davidson

Along with Puddleglum's character is his language. As his name suggests, Puddleglum is a glum character, and how he chooses to state things had me laughing and yearning to reach through the pages to give him a big hug. Here are some of the choice quotes I pulled from the story that helped to engrave Puddleglum on my literary heart:

Quote 1 (taken from page 581):
“Can you help us find Prince Rilian?”
The Marsh-wiggle sucked in his cheeks till they were hollower than you would have thought possible. “Well, I don’t know that you’d call it help,” he said. “I don’t know that anyone can exactly help. It stands to reason we’re not likely to get very far on a journey to the north, not at this time of the year, with the winter coming on soon and all. And an early winter too, by the look of things. But you mustn’t let that make you down-hearted. Very likely, what with enemies, and mountains, and rivers to cross, and losing our way, and next to nothing to eat, and sore feet, we’ll hardly notice the weather. And if we don’t get far enough to do any good, we may get far enough not to get back in a hurry.”
Quote 2 (taken from page 583):
“… They all say — I mean, the other wiggles all say — that I’m too flighty; don’t take life seriously enough. If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie. You want something to sober you down a bit. We’re only saying it for your own good, Puddleglum.’ That’s what they say. Now a job like this — a journey up north just as winter’s beginning, looking for a prince who probably isn’t there, by way of a ruined city that no one has ever seen — will be just the thing. If that doesn’t steady a chap, I don’t know what will.”
Quote 3 (taken from page 647 and said while the characters were trapped underground):
“Courage, friends,” came Prince Rilian’s voice. “Whether we live or die Aslan will be our good lord.”
“That’s right, Sir,” said Puddleglum’s voice. “And you must always remember there’s one good thing about being trapped down here: it’ll save funeral expenses.”
Quote 4 (taken from page 658):
“Now, speaking of funerals,” began Puddleglum, but Jill, who heard the Centaurs tapping with their hoofs behind her, surprised him very much by flinging her arms around his thin neck and kissing his muddy-looking face, while Eustace wrung his hand. Then they both rushed away tot he centaurs, and the Marsh-wiggle, sinking back on his bed, remarked to himself, “Well, I wouldn’t have dreamt of her doing that. Even though I am a good-looking chap.”
The quotations show how gloomy, yet endearing, Puddleglum can be. When I write my own stories, I hope I can create such a character that will make readers want to jump into the stories themselves, if for no other reason than to meet a single character face-to-face. And, Puddleglum, I'd jump into Narnia just for you.

Happy reading!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Unread Book Challenge: CHRONICLES OF NARNIA

I just finished reading The Chronicles of Narnia--all seven books in the series. Now that I have finished reading the books, I have a confession to make: I was dreading reading The Chronicles of Narnia.

I never read the books when I was younger because I didn't much enjoy fantasy books. I remember watching a movie based on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was younger, and the story didn't appeal to me. I think my sister had the books on her bookshelf (she can correct me if I'm wrong, but I know I remember seeing them on someone's bookshelf...), and I remember thinking, "Why would anyone want to read books about talking animals?" At the time, I just didn't get it. It took me a while to come around to reading fantasy; in fact, I was in college before a friend convinced me to read The Complete Book of Swords, my first foray into fantasy. It wouldn't be until I read Harry Potter, though, that the true magnificence of fantasy would finally open my eyes to a genre I had been largely ignoring most of my life.

And so, it was with a bit of trepidation that I included The Chronicles of Narnia in my Book to Read Next Poll because I figured that would be the winner. My underlying motive was to read it early on in the Unread Books Challenge, though, so that I could get it out of the way.

I had started reading the books right after my son was born (a little over 4 years ago), and I still had my small paper bookmark, showing the place where I had stopped reading (right after the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). So I had made it through the first book in the series, but I couldn't remember a single thing about what I had read (which I find odd, seeing as how I can leave off for several years in the middle of other books and have no problems picking the storyline up again). I began at the beginning.

I flew through the series--not because I was skimming to get to the end but because I was so intrigued that I had to keep going. I wish I had read the books when I was younger because I'd like to know what I would have thought of the books as a younger reader; as an adult, I found I wanted to get out my red editor's pen and mark places that could have used a bit more detail (I've read that J.R.R. Tolkien, a friend of C.S. Lewis, felt the same way about the books), yet I still adored the stories. I adored the stories so much that I'll be dedicating at least two upcoming posts to stories of Narnia.

And so I thank my readers for giving me a gentle push toward finally reading the classic Narnia books by voting that book as the winner of the BTRN poll. In the next couple days, I'll post the next BTRN poll and continue reading my way through my own bookshelves.

Happy reading!