Edward Eager (1911-1964) really ought to be better known. Although none of his books won major awards, they have stayed in print for more than fifty years and are still being read and enjoyed by elementary age children.
Mr. Eager was actually a successful playwright and lyricist. He wrote fewer than a dozen books for children, seven of them representative of what he termed his “daily magic” style. While reading aloud to his young son, Fritz, he discovered the books of the classic children’s author, Edith Nesbit (Five Children and It, The Railway Children, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Magic City, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and The Enchanted Castle, among others), and, admiring her style, consciously tried to imitate it.
His first “magical” sort of book was Half Magic, published in 1954. In this, as in the six to follow, he always paid homage to Nesbit by depicting his characters reading her books. Of her, he said, “Probably the sincerest compliment I could pay her is already paid in the fact that my own books for children could not even have existed if it were not for her influence”.
Okay, so what is so great about Eager’s books? Why should you read them aloud to your kids, or place them in your children’s hands? Although the world of his characters is that of his own childhood (1920s Toledo, Ohio), and there are certainly differences in lifestyle from our own time, there is also a timeless quality of childhood, a sense that magic can really happen to ordinary kids. As a character in another of his books, Seven-Day Magic, says, “The best kind of magic book …is when it’s about ordinary people like us, and then something happens and it’s magic. The best kind of magic book…is the kind where the magic has rules. And you have to deal with it and thwart it before it thwarts you. Only sometimes you forget and get thwarted”. The books exhibit a lot of humor and word play. The children in his books are reading children, and are often depicted visiting the library. There are many references to other authors and books running through his plots. The episodic chapters make the books perfect for reading aloud.
The characters introduced in that book reappear in Magic by the Lake, Knight’s Castle, and The Time Garden. Next, try the companion books, Magic of Not? and The Well-Wishers. Finally, you may want to read his last work, a stand- alone book, Seven-Day Magic, which is about a magical library book.
Half Magic appears on a number of lists of favorite or recommended books for children. Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, lists it as one of his favorite kids’ books. Terry Clark, head of the Children’s Library of the Vancouver Public Library in British Columbia, included it on her list, “If You Like Harry Potter, You Will Like These”. Finally, the modern children’s writer, Laurel Snyder, has continued the tradition of using imitation as the sincerest form of flattery by writing a book, Any Which Wall , which sets out to imitate Eager in just the way he imitated Nesbit. As researcher Charlotte Spivack put it, “…the best “daily magic” available to children is the magic experience of reading imaginative literature”.
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In Matt Haig’s The Radleys, the general populace is unaware of the existence of vampires. The Radleys, a modern vampire family live as abstainers, guided by a bible of abstinence which prohibits taking human life for blood. At times thoughtful, even mournful, the Radleys is also spiced with wry humor. ( Lord Byron, Jimi Hendrix and Danielle Steel are revealed to be vampires...Neckbook is the new social networking craze.)
The Radleys of Orchard Lane are a family pretending to be everything they are not-average, pedestrian, normal. Peter is a physician at the local clinic, and his wife Helen paints watercolors, and attends book club discussion. Their son Rowan is bullied at school, and daughter Clara is going vegan, and championing animal rights. Though they are keeping up appearances, Peter and Helen have been harboring a secret not just from the town folk of Bishopthorpe, but from their own children as well. Clara wonders why animals avoid her, and Rowan suffers endless torment from his classmates for his “differentness”. In spite of the wrenching control Peter and Helen have maintained over the years, a carefully constructed façade is on the verge of crumbling. The fragile peace of the Radley’s lives is violently shattered when Clara is overwhelmed by her true nature. There’s no turning back. As Clara’s crisis rocks the foundation of their world, the past is also catching up. Peter’s brother arrives on the scene, bringing his own threat to the Radley’s survival, and the police are closing in on Clara.
As tensions in the town tighten, bonds between the Radleys are tested. The lure of blood is strong, and each member of the family will be drawn into temptation and challenged to find the strength to take control of their destinies. Revenge, love, hope and rebirth coalesce at the conclusion. They may be vampires, but the Radleys are also strangely human, fallible, and very likeable. In a sea of current vampire novels on the shelves today, The Radleys is a stand-out. I hope we hear more from Matt Haig.
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Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wassonsubmitted by Debbe
My first introduction to Truman Capote was after he wrote In Cold Blood , a novel based on the true story of a Kansas family’s tragic murders. I was a teenager and Capote was a regular guest on NBC’s Tonight show. I found his talk show banter irresistible and was the perfect age to delve into what Capote himself called “a nonfiction novel.’ I read the book and then a year or two later saw the film.
Since then I have seen Capote , Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Academy Award winning depiction of the years Capote spent researching and writing In Cold Blood , and I’ve read Capote in Kansas: a ghost story by Kim Powers, a fictional work depicting the end of Capote’s life and how In Cold Blood haunted him.
Recently I read a copy of Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wasson. I was too young to read Capote’s novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s when it was first published and it wasn’t until about 10 years ago I saw the movie. The focus of Wasson’s book is on Capote’s writing of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and its adaption to the big screen. The author followed the entire process from the formation by Capote of the idea that spawned the novel until moviegoers saw the finished product.
Personalities involved in the movie production are giants in film history: film director, Blake Edwards; screenwriter, George Axelrod; costumer, Edith Head; composer, Henry Mancini; lyricist, Johnny Mercer; and actors Hepburn, George Peppard, Buddy Ebsen, Patrician Neal and Mickey Rooney, to name a few. The process of screenwriting, casting, costuming and the coming together of Mancini and Mercer to compose Moon River, the movie’s theme, is both informative and entertaining. Wasson explains why Capote’s novel was significantly changed; to accommodate the “morals” of the time; and how the selection of Audrey Hepburn to play the role of Holly Golightly was instrumental in the successful adaption. Capote’s novel would not have made it passed the censors of the time but the selection of Hepburn allowed more flexibility. Capote’s choice of Marilyn Monroe might have been less “suitable.”
Reading the Wasson book, spurred me to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s , watch the movie again and listen to the soundtrack, allowing me to experience them with an understanding of the process which created them. All books, DVDs and CDs are available at the library.
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It is the year 1811, just before King George III of Britain is set to be declared unfit to rule and his son, Prince George IV, is to be named Prince Regent. This distinctive and tumultuous time in history is the setting for C.S. Harris’ mystery novel, What Angels Fear . I must confess that the majority of Regency era books that I have read are primarily romance novels, beginning with all things Jane Austen and ending with all sorts of popular fiction that is not nearly so well written.
While sharing some familiar aspects with Regency romances, Harris gives us a grittier and more complex look at this time in history. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin has recently returned from the Peninsular Wars. Unconventional at the best of times, he is now accused of the brutal murder of a young actress named Rachel York. Using skills he acquired in the war, Devlin is on the run from authorities and hiding in the underbelly of 1811 London. He is determined to bring Rachel York’s murderer to justice and clear his own name.
What Angels Fear is the first in C.S. Harris’s St. Cyr mystery series. It is a fast paced, suspenseful, and at times dark, mystery peppered with both real and imagined historical figures. C.S. Harris is a historian whose specialty is 19th century Europe and her expertise is demonstrated throughout this novel. The reader is shown the somewhat familiar world of Regency Era British aristocracy as well as the brutal poverty and desperation of the British poor. Overall, What Angels Fear is the beginning of a thoughtful and entertaining mystery series. I can see fans of Deanna Raybourn , Charles Tood , or Tasha Alexander enjoying this series as well.
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There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and find my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The Merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop, he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
-W. Somerset Maugham
And with this short tale from W. Somerset Maugham does John O’Hara begin his debut novel, appropriately entitled Appointment in Samarra and published in 1934. I remember still the first time I read the prologue. A feeling of discomfort swept over me as I came to the realization of the meaning – one cannot escape fate, a debatable point to be sure, I told myself, and yet, the hair continued to stand on the back of my neck.
Specifically, the story involves a broad cast of characters of varying backgrounds during a three-day period around Christmas 1930 in Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, a mining town in the vicinity of Pittsburgh. Despite the many personalities that are introduced, the focus is clearly set on Julian and Caroline English, who are numbered among the social elite of Gibbsville, and while many in the town admire and envy them, their reality both within and between them is not reflected in their refined and sophisticated image, as Julian and Caroline face pasts that to most are coveted but are littered with experiences that have resulted in two very damaged adults.
The main action begins with Julian throwing his highball into the face of a social climber at the exclusive Lantenengo Country Club at the Christmas Eve Party, and while this status seeker is detested, he happens to be very rich and to whom Julian owes a good deal of money, and it is through this thoughtless action that Julian sets in motion his personal appointment in Samarra. Through the torrent of these three days, the reader follows the various plot lines with increasing uncertainty as mistakes mount leading to the story’s climax, one that begs the question: does fate await us, too?
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