Just finished Dandelion Cottage, by Carroll Watson Rankin. 1904, middle-grade by today’s categories: four girls get to use a delapidated cottage, owned by the church on their block, as a summer play-house. I checked it out because Beverly Cleary mentioned in A Girl from Yamhill that it was a childhood favorite of hers. (And I see, browsing Goodreads, that I’m not the only one who read it for that reason.) There is lots of housecleaning! And entertaining a real live boarder for three weeks, and a culminating dinner party for the kindly landlord and favorite neighbor.
One thing stood out compared to contemporary books: the rotten new girl who steals, wrecks stuff, and otherwise makes things no fun doesn’t get the note of sympathy or redemption that would be required now. Laura’s parents are mean and negligent, and although the four Dandelion Cottage girls keep reminding each other not to sink to her level, no adult or narrator points out that Laura hasn’t really had friends before, has a tough family life, et cetera. I wonder when sympathy for bullies and “bad kids” became de rigueur– sometime before Mary Stolz’ A Dog on Barkam Street led to The Bully of Barkham Street in 1963?
There are two brief mentions of playing Indian, early in the book. No other content warnings that I can recall.
Dandelion Cottage would make a lovely pair with Elizabeth Enright’s 1958 Gone-Away Lake. And it has a school-story sequel called Girls of Highland Hall, which I have snagged to read on my phone.
The rest of my current reads:
- The Swan and the Seal, by Kristi Lee. She went indie with her sequel to the m/m novella Surprised At Nothing and changed the point of view to my favorite character!
- The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Audiobook. I like the relatively subtle questioning of right-and-wrong, and Simon Jones does a wonderful sardonic Bartimeus! The disappointment is that I was sure Martha Underwood would turn out to be sneaky and powerful. She got Nathan’s real name out of him in the first five minutes! She walked right in on her husband’s meeting with Lovelace! But no, apparently not. :(
- The Boy in the Black Suit, by Jason Reynolds. He has such a strong, easy prose style. It makes me feel like I know the characters, like we hang out all the time.
- Year of the Griffin, by Diana Wynne Jones. I think I’ll always have a book of hers at hand for odd moments, because something interesting happens on every single page. Moment-to-moment interestingness.
I have been ILL-ing some Margery Williams Bianco, after snagging Winterbound from a Newbery Honor list awhile back and loving it. Kids managing without the grownups! Butch girl makes good!
Other People’s Houses was also good– another sensible teenager on her own, scrambling for temp and domestic jobs in New York City when Plan A has fallen through, and meeting up with her best buddy to commiserate over cheap spaghetti dinners once a week.
Not that I don’t like The Velveteen Rabbit fine, but so far I’ve tried to stay away from the toy-and-doll end of her work, and more toward YA, going by titles and page counts in the card catalog. So I was surprised when Bright Morning turned out to be a sort of “Little House in Victorian London,” stories from the daily lives of sisters age 6 and 8, in a well-to-do family in Kensington.
I assume the delicious domestic details come from the author’s childhood memories, as she was born in 1881 and moved to the U.S. when she was about nine. (The book was published in 1942.) One of my favorite chapters had Mama fretting about when to call the chimney-sweeps in, because once they’ve cleaned everything out, you don’t want to light any more fires that spring and mess it up again. If there’s a cold snap, you’ll just have to shiver. Anyway, once the fireplace is swept clean, it has to be filled for the summer with a cascade of decorative white horsehair with tinsel mixed in. But Papa keeps absent-mindedly continuing to flick his receipts and burnt matches into the fireplace, and they have to be picked out again. So Papa decides to get a WASTEPAPER BASKET, only he and Mama have different ideas about what a proper one is…
I ate it up! It all had the immediacy and detail with which I remember my own childhood. (Wait til you read what respectable bathing at the seashore was like.) The writing reminds me of Elizabeth Enright–maybe I just love 1940s prose?–and I think Betsy-Tacy fans would feel at home too. I’m eager to see what will come in for me next.
On Friday I rode the bus to work and when I got downtown I was getting close to the end of Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I tried to get my usual mile of walking in, but it started raining, and I ended up at McDonald’s, eating breakfast and finishing the book and crying over my coffee and potato triangle. It was just so awesome. I was forty minutes late to work.
The experience was similar to reading The Fault In Our Stars, in that I’m blowing my nose and saying, “it’s, sooooo, gooo-ooo-oood!” and at the same time my brain is working over some things that are maybe not that good.
Like, the treatment of the guidance counselor is such an odd comic note. The realism of the book in general seems to fluctuate wildly. And although I love the majority-POC cast, in the end I found the Nguyen family underdeveloped. There’s a reveal about the mom at the end, and if I had been the daughter, I would have been like, WHAT? And why had the mom made the decisions she did all along? But the book is so focused on our heroine that it was let slide. The Nguyens didn’t feel stereotyped to me, emotionally, but in the absence of more context about them, some stereotypes are the best available explanation for some things about them.
Anyway, if you’ve read this book, I’d love to know if the tone and point of view worked for you, and if it made you bawl in a McDonalds or anything. By the way, I also loved it because there’s housecleaning!
As soon as she came in from the garden, Peter came and took the book out of her hands and presented her with a cloth to tie round her waist instead. Then he led her to the kitchen, where the mysterious and horrible process began. Peter thrust another cloth into her hands. “You wipe and I’ll wash,” he said, lifting the steaming saucepan off the fire and pouring half the hot water on the soapflakes sprinkled in the sink. He heaved up a bucket of cold water from the pump and poured half of that in the sink too.
“Why are you doing that?” Charmain asked.
“So as not to get scalded,” Peter replied, plunging knives and forks into his mixture and following those with a stack of plates. “Don’t you know anything?”
“No,” Charmain said. She thought irritably that not one of the many books she had read had so much as mentioned washing dishes, let alone explained how you did it.
DWJ, out to rectify this. <3 <3 <3