Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Little Lame Prince and His Traveling Cloak

Dinah Mulock 1964

There are so many amazing older books written for children.  I suppose many people get turned off by the antique language or outdated social characters.  That's too bad because these vintage books often have tremendous moral lessons and beautiful writing.  This story was originally published in 1875.

Our copy has this wonderful inscription on the first page:

As a baby Prince Dolor was dropped on his christening day, resulting in him being lame for the rest of his life. He is sent to live out his days in a tall tower with an uncaring nurse. Luckily he has a magical fairy godmother who gives him a special cloak- a traveling cloak that lets him fly around even though he cannot walk.

Outside it was the commonest-looking bundle imaginable- shabby and small; and the instant Prince Dolor touched it, it grew smaller still, dwindling down till he could put it in his trousers' pocket, like a handkerchief rolled up into a ball.

He is curious about the world and as he wishes to see and experience things, his cloak makes it happen. His godmother also gives him a pair of magical glasses and ears to enhance his sight and hearing.
Just a bunch of green leaves- such as we see in myriads, watching them bud, grow, fall, and then kicking them along on the ground as if they were worth nothing. Yet, how wonderful they are- every one of them a little different. I don't suppose you could ever find two leaves exactly alike in form, color, and size- no more than you could find two faces alike, or two characters exactly the same. The plan of this world is infinite similarity and yet infinite variety.

It's really a remarkable story about how he grows up, faces his disability, gets his kingdom back and becomes a great king.

He had never seen any real live boys, but he had seen pictures of them, running and jumping, which he had admired and tried hard to imitate, but always failed. Now he began to understand why he failed and that he always should fail- that, in fact, he was not like other little boys, and it was of no use his wishing to do as they did and play as they played, even if he had had them to play with. His was a separate life, in which he must find out new work and new pleasures for himself.

His godmother tells him: "You will never be able to walk, or run, or jump, or play- that your life will be quite different from most people's lives; but it may be a very happy life for all that. Do not be afraid."

 The sense of the inevitable, as grown-up people call it- that we cannot have things as we want them to be, but as they are, and that we must learn to bear them and make the best of them- this lesson which everybody has to learn soon or late came, alas sadly soon to the poor boy.

 This line I thought was startlingly perceptive and wise (and a gem to find in a children's story):

Then he fancied the cloak began to rock gently to and fro, with a soothing kind of motion, as if he were in somebody's arms- somebody who did not speak, but loved him and comforted him without need of words; not by deceiving him with false encouragement or hope, but by making him see the plain, hard truth in all its hardness, and thus letting him quietly face it till it grew softened down and did not seem nearly so dreadful after all.

We have several copies of this book.  One from 1928 and with more classical illustrations.

And also a large hardback from 1948 that includes "The Adventures of a Brownie" also by Miss Mulock.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jennifer's Rabbit

Tom Paxton
illustrated by Elizabeth Miles 2001

Madeleine first brought this home from her elementary school library and I fell in love.  I had never heard the song before but I couldn't help but read it with a sing-song voice.   The illustrations are pretty wonderful too.  This has become a popular bedtime read in our house.  I'd like to think the kids fall asleep with dreams of sailing on a starlight sea and dancing on the decks of a red-sailed brig.

Jennifer slept in her little bed
With dreams of her rabbit in her little head.
Jennifer's rabbit, brown and white,
Left the house and ran away one night

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Before I Was Your Mother

Kathryn Lasky 2007
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

A decidedly less tear-inducing book about motherhood than my last post! This is still a cute nostalgic look at the past though, as a mother tells her daughter about how she was once a little girl too. The perspective is great.  The daughter sees her mother only as a harried, bill-paying, responsible mom.  But her mother tells her how she was once a girl who loved ballet tutus and red cowboy boots and making all sorts of noise and fun with her best friend.

Friday, May 6, 2011


     You know a book is a keeper when you start to get choked up while just reading it in the isle of the store! I had recently had Charlotte and was in the unique position of experiencing a new baby while my oldest daughter, Madeleine, was on the cusp of womanhood. Holding Charlotte, I remembered baby Madeleine and knew what it felt like to blink and have your child be nearly grown.
Alison McGhee 2007
pictures by Peter Reynolds

     This book, so simply written and illustrated, captures that mother-feeling of loving a child, watching them grow, the dreams you have for them, and the passage of time. 

When I found this book I had to buy several copies to send to friends and (of course!) my mom. I think it's interesting that each of us is affected by a different part or line of the story. For me having daughters it was particularly poignant knowing (or hoping) that my own girls will someday become mothers themselves.  So this page was the one that did me in:
Someday I will watch you brushing your child's hair.

Someday, a long time from now, your own hair will glow silver in the sun.  And when that day comes, love, you will remember me.

When my grandmom was in a nursing home at the close of her life (nearly 80 years old), she would talk about her own mother.  Here she had been a wife, had her own children, raised a family, endured trials, had strength and at this time, old and grey haired, it was her mother that she thought of.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

     May Night

The Spring is fresh and fearless
     And every leaf is new,
The world is brimmed with moonlight, 
     The lilac brimmed with dew.

Here in the moving shadows
     I catch my breath and sing-
My heart is fresh and fearless
     And over-brimmed with spring.

                        -Sara Teasdale 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pirates in the Park

I love stories about adventurous girls!  Maybe that's because I was once an adventurous girl myself, and I have two such daughters of my own.

Thom Roberts 1973
pictures by Harold Berson

This story, very obviously illustrated in the 70's and looking similar to Peter Spier's work, is about a girl named Jenny and her crew of stuffed animal friends. When she goes down to the pond to play, a group of boys make fun of her.  She doesn't have a fancy model ship to play with like they do but she builds a walnut boat and her imagination makes up for the rest.

Jenny becomes the brave captain of the S.S. Walnut with her toys as her sailors.  She leads them to victory against the pirate boys and rescues her dog.  It's a cute story with a fun heroine.