Saturday, April 27, 2019

Helen Keller's Teacher by Margaret Davidson #1965Club

This is my final entry in the #1965Club, which collected reviews of books published in 1965.
Who else remembers this iconic cover?
Title: Helen Keller’s Teacher
Author: Margaret Davidson
Publication: 1965, Scholastic paperback
Genre: Juvenile Biography
Plot: Annie Sullivan (born 1866), who became Helen Keller's legendary teacher, had a lonely childhood as a virtually blind orphan in a poorhouse in Tewksbury*, Massachusetts. Her life was transformed when she became a student at the Perkins School for the Blind. There, she learned how to read and to control her temper, and graduated as Valedictorian of her class. When she was asked to become the governess of 6-year-old Helen Keller, a deaf and blind girl in Alabama, Annie was daunted but took on the challenge with determination, and was able to teach Helen how to communicate and thus free her from a world of isolation.

Audience: Young readers, 8-10.

My Impressions: This is an extremely memorable book that was very popular in its Scholastic paperback format when I was growing up.   I am sure I found it at the John Ward School library and I hope the author got royalties - my copy is the 18th printing. Annie Sullivan’s story – an intelligent but headstrong orphan – is vividly told from Annie’s misery in the poorhouse in northern Massachusetts when she loses her brother, her difficult but ultimately rewarding time at the Perkins School for the Blind (a mile from my old home in Watertown), and the fateful decision to travel an enormous distance (three days by train) from Boston to Alabama to teach a girl everyone had given up on except her mother.
What a coincidence that this bookmark awaited me
at the New England Mobile Book Fair today!
The author describes the weeks that Annie taught Helen to sign with Helen beginning to mimic her without comprehension until the fateful day when Annie signed W-A-T-E-R while pumping water onto Helen’s hand and Helen made the connection. A poignant episode I also remembered was when Helen starts using cards with words in raised letters and hides in a wardrobe.
Annie had seen the wardrobe door swing as she came into the room. So Helen was playing a trick, was she? Annie smiled and went over to the wardrobe. Ever so gently she pulled the door open. And there was Helen. 
Suddenly the fond smile left Annie’s face. Tears sprang to her eyes. “Oh my darling girl,” she gasped. For a moment she was too overwhelmed to move. Helen was standing before her in the wardrobe, proudly holding up a card that spelled G-I-R-L. Beside her on the floor were three more cards. They spelled I-S and I-N and W-A-R-D-R-O-B-E. It was Helen Keller’s first sentence and she had done it all by herself. 
Annie knelt down beside Helen and softly spelled into her hand, “Helen makes teacher very happy.”
As a child, I was fascinated to learn that Helen Keller, with Annie Sullivan by her side, had graduated from Radcliffe but I always felt it was unfair Annie didn’t get a degree as well (although as I recall there were other teachers who helped communicate the materials to Helen).

Source: Personal copy
Off the Blog: Today was Independent Bookstore Day and I visited the New England Mobile Book Fair, where I bought The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas, which had been on my TBR for a while, and got the bookmark above.

* I learned several years ago I had been mispronouncing Tewksbury since childhood.   I was saying too-kz-berry and the locals appear to say tucks-berry.  None of them purport to know anything about the poorhouse so it must have been demolished (surprised not renovated into high end condos).

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart #1965Club

The 1965 Club is a meme in which two prolific bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings, promote a specific year of published books. Anyone can join in by reading and reviewing a book published in 1965 and adding a link to that book's review in the comments on Simon's blog.  1944,19681951,1977 have also been promoted. 
This was the original US cover
Title: Airs Above the Ground 
Author: Mary Stewart
Publication: M.S. Mill Co., hardcover, 1965
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: When Vanessa March sees a news report showing her husband in Austria when he told her he was going to Stockholm on business, she is puzzled and his beautiful blonde companion makes her decide to go investigate.  She is accompanied by Timothy Lacy, teenage son of a family friend, and they travel to the small town in Austria where a fire caused havoc to a traveling circus, resulting in international coverage. Thanks to Vanessa’s skill as a veterinarian, she saves the life of a horse at the heart of a long buried secret and is befriended by the circus folk.  Soon she and Tim (who is usefully fluent in German) are plunged into a mystery involving members of the circus and the famous Lipizzan stallions known for their “airs above the ground” dressage, and the friendly atmosphere of the Austrian countryside turns deadly. 
Audience: Mary Stewart, who died in 2014, is/was a romantic suspense category unto herself and everyone else just tries to emulate her, mostly without success.  I was never a big fan of her Merlin books but her romantic suspense is beyond compare.  And although I like this one a lot, it is not even in my top five of her books!*

My Impressions: This is such a delightful read and took me back to the first time I brought it home, back in junior high!  When you pick up a Mary Stewart you are guaranteed a light-hearted romance, some drama and danger, charming characters, and an incredible sense of place.  She also begins each chapter with a literary quote, as befits someone who earned a first in English from Durham University. 

In this book, she transports Vanessa and Tim from damp London to a small village in a hilly region of Austria and brings them (and us) into a small but successful circus.   Vanessa is one of her most accomplished heroines; she is a vet’s daughter and qualified as a vet herself, and when she carries out a tricky operation at midnight with improvised materials, she and Tim are welcomed by the circus owners.
Unlike most Stewart heroines, Vanessa is married, but she quarreled with her husband before he set off on what he claimed was an essential business trip instead of their long-anticipated vacation.   This changes the dynamic a little as part of a typical Stewart story is wondering who the hero will be. Vanessa’s interaction with other characters reveals her determination and ability to think on her feet.   Her relationship with Tim is an appealing part of this book and they make a good team, especially when the mystery takes off.  Tim’s parents are divorced and he was hoping to visit his father in Austria until it turned out the father was preoccupied with a new fiancĂ©e. Vanessa is not that much older than he is but operates as a bracing big sister to an initially cranky adolescent, who not only matures but also becomes an amusing and competent adult as the story progresses.   

Stewart’s evocation of the history and magic of the Lipizzaners is an unexpected bonus to this book!   I remember persuading my mother to bring my birthday party to the Boston Garden once when the famous stallions were performing there – if you have never seen them perform, look on YouTube.
Pretty but where's the horse?
Source: Personal copy (note that her books are now available in Kindle)

Off the Blog: I found out today I am a winner in the City of Boston Credit Union’s WINcentiveMonthly Drawing!  So cool - I have been working on a project to promote saving for emergencies so opened this account to test and be able to speak convincingly about it.  I really hope that people will find saving to be more appealing if there is a likelihood of winning/fun element.

* So which are my favorite Stewarts?   

Madam, Will You Talk
This Rough Magic
The Moonspinners
The Ivy Tree
Nine Coaches Waiting
Airs Above the Ground

Monday, April 8, 2019

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper #1965Club

The 1965 Club is a meme in which two prolific bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings, promote a specific year of published books. Anyone can join in by reading and reviewing a book published in 1965 and adding a link to that book's review in the comments on Simon's blog.  1944,19681951,1977 have also been promoted.

Title: Over Sea, Under Stone
Author: Susan Cooper
Publication: Atheneum, hardcover, 1965 (paperback reprint 2000)
Genre: Children’s fiction/fantasy
Plot: Simon, Jane, Barney, and their parents travel to Cornwall for a holiday with their Great Uncle Merry. He has rented an old house in the village of Trewissick that comes with a friendly dog, Rufus, and a seemingly jolly housekeeper, Mrs. Palk. On their first excursion, the children discover a mysterious yacht and make an enemy, an unexpectedly hostile local boy. They also explore the house and find a hidden door that leads to a fusty musty dusty attic, in which they are lucky enough to find a secret map tucked under the floorboards. It is delightfully ancient with Latin inscriptions, and is so clearly a treasure map that the children instinctively agree not to tell their parents they found it. However, their attempts to search for what they optimistically hope is King Arthur’s grail bring them into dangerous contact with menacing individuals who want the unknown loot for themselves. As the children fight to locate and save the treasure, Great Uncle Merry turns out to be the key to the vanquishing their rivals in a surprisingly dark introduction to The Dark is Rising series.

Audience: Fans of juvenile fantasy or classic 20th century English adventure stories

credit: Alison MacAdam, NPR
My Impressions: Cooper’s first book is a family adventure with only hints of fantasy in it: is the sought-after treasure King Arthur’s grail and do the dark enemies in pursuit have supernatural powers? I enjoyed Over Sea, Under Stone as a child but had forgotten both how scary it is for the children when the bad guys are after them (especially when they are separated and being pursued or have been kidnapped alone) and how different this book is from subsequent entries in the series, which are straight fantasy. It was obvious that Cooper’s style and interests had evolved but in this edition she actually explains that she wrote the book in response to a competition honoring E. Nesbit, which sought a “family adventure story” in return for a £1,000 prize and publication. The Arthurian elements emerged once she began writing and, as in many such stories, the parents are either gone or primarily absent.

I met Cooper, who lives in Greater Boston, on two occasions but unfortunately they were the type of crowded autographing sessions where you barely get time to murmur your admiration. It is interesting that her second marriage was to Hume Cronyn, who performed, with his then wife Jessica Tandy, in the Broadway production of Foxfire, which he co-wrote with Cooper.  The two couples became friendly, stayed in touch, and consoled each other later on.

Source: I bought a Puffin paperback on a family vacation to Bermuda when I was 11. I hope it is not lost but it certainly isn't on the shelf with its siblings.  I had to get a copy from the library when I had a yearning to reread.  If you have not read this series, it is not too late, even for adult readers.
Off the Blog: I was doing a presentation on credit building earlier to a group of Hispanic elementary school parents in East Boston.  Someone was there to translate my English to Spanish but it was challenging to simplify the concepts so they wouldn’t get lost in translation yet still get the message across.