I read Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace several years ago with my book group and decided it was time to finish the series. Betsy-Tacy and Tib is my favorite of the four children’s books. Several of the antics made me laugh out loud—especially the chapter “Being Good.”
It begins with these words:
It was strange that Betsy and Tacy and Tib ever did things which grown-ups thought were naughty, for they tried so hard to be good. They were very religious. Betsy was a Baptist, and Tacy was a Catholic, and Tib was an Episcopalian.
They loved to sit on Tacy’s back fence and talk about God.
In this particular conversation, they decide that they won’t get to Heaven if all they do is think about fun. Tacy observes that “the saints didn’t have much fun” and that “they used to wear hair shirts” to “make themselves gooder. And if they did anything bad they put pebbles in their shoes.”
This gives Betsy a profound idea. The girls will establish “The Christian Kindness Club” to help them be good so that they will get to Heaven. She explains, “We’ll never get to be good if we don’t punish ourselves for being bad. A child could see that.”
The Austin Family Chronicles, by Madeleine L’Engle (juv/YA fiction)
“In this award-winning young adult series from Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, Vicky Austin experiences the difficulties and joys of growing up.”
I found A Ring of Endless Light, the fourth book in The Austin Family Chronicles, at a thrift store earlier in the year and immediately fell in love with it. It reminded me of the higher-quality books I read as a girl and gave me quite a feeling of nostalgia. I loved the beach setting, and I felt at home with Vicky and her family—so much so that I read the other four novels in the series: Meet the Austins, The Moon by Night, The Young Unicorns, and Troubling a Star.
In The Young Unicorns, Canon Tallis makes this observation about the Austin family:
“Born in India, the unattractive and willful Mary Lennox has remained in the care of servants for as long as she can remember. But the girl’s life changes when her mother and father die and she travels to Yorkshire to live with her uncle. Dark, dreary Misselthwaite Manor seems full of mysteries, including a very special garden, locked tight for 10 years. With the help of Dickon, a local boy, Mary intends to uncover its secrets.”
“Built over an unquiet grave, the House of the Seven Gables carries a dying man’s curse that blights the lives of its residents for over two centuries. Now Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, an iron-hearted hypocrite and intellectual heir to the mansion’s unscrupulous founder, is attempting to railroad a pair of his elderly relatives out of the house. Only two young people stand in his way–a visiting country cousin and an enigmatic boarder skilled in mesmerism.”
As soon as I learned that The Secret Garden would be on my book group‘s schedule for 2015, I thought it would be nice to re-read The House of the Seven Gables also and comment on both novels. On the surface, these books appear quite different, but I knew they were similar in at least one respect—both stories show gardening as being an activity that nourishes both the body and spirit. By the time I was finished reading the books, I realized that they are even more similar than I had remembered; they both address the healing of emotionally diseased individuals and families in old manor houses that symbolically take on the sickly qualities of the families that inhabit them. One of the characters in The House of the Seven Gables describes this relationship between the families and their generational homes:
All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor, illustrated by Helen John (Juvenile fiction)
“It’s the turn of the century in New York’s Lower East Side and a sense of adventure and excitement abounds for five young sisters—Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie. Follow along as they search for hidden buttons while dusting Mama’s front parlor, or explore the basement warehouse of Papa’s peddler’s shop on rainy days. The five girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises. But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all!”
Twenty and Ten, a.k.a. The Secret Cave, by Claire Huchet Bishop, illustrated by William Pene du Bois (Juvenile fiction)
“During the Nazi occupation of France, twenty ordinary French kids in a boarding school agree to hide ten Jewish children. Then German soldiers arrive. Will the children be able to withstand the interrogation and harassment?”
One of the women in my book group read all kinds of wonderful children’s literature when she was a girl and often recommends books the rest of us have never heard of. One of those books was All-of-a-Kind Family. Whenever I read a particularly delightful children’s book like this one as an adult, I often wonder how I would have liked it had I read it as a child. This time around, I began thinking fondly about the books I did read as a girl, and one of my most beloved books was a short novel entitled The Secret Cave, which was originally published with the title Twenty and Ten. I still have my little scholastic edition of The Secret Cave, with its torn cover and taped up, yellowed pages, and I have enjoyed reading it to my children.
“The Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers).
“God has just such gladness every time he sees from heaven that a sinner is praying to Him with all his heart, as a mother has when she sees the first smile on her baby’s face” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot).
“God’s love and mercy can overcome all things—our ignorance, and weakness, and all the burden of our past wickedness—all things but our wilful sin, sin that we cling to, and will not give up” (George Eliot, Adam Bede).
“Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing; human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion, and God alone can be omnipotent, because His wisdom and His justice are always equal to His power” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America).
“I decided that God, a kind and loving God, could never be proved. In fact there are . . . a lot of arguments against him. But there isn’t any point to life without him. Without him we’re just a skin disease on the face of the earth, and I feel too strongly about the human spirit to be able to settle for that. So what I did for a long time was to live life as though I believed in God. And eventually I found out that the as though had turned into a reality” (Madeleine L’Engle, The Moon by Night).
About the Author
Creator of spaced-out Christian fiction and clean-reading resources. See my BIO.