Sunday, June 11, 2023

Vintage Kidlit Summer: Smoky House by Elizabeth Goudge

This week’s theme for Vintage Kidlit Summer is Moody and Mysterious. I chose to read Smoky House by Elizabeth Goudge, a story of a family living in Smoky House, an inn in Faraway, a fairytale village in the  west of England during the period following the Napoleonic wars in the 1800s. When a mysterious fiddler arrives, he uncovers  a secret band of smugglers and threatens life at the inn, but the children, their good dogs, and a fair amount of fairy intervention saves the day. 

I became a huge fan of Elizabeth Goudge a few years ago and I have been steadily reading through (and buying) all of her books. This year for my birthday, Brent ordered me four of her children’s books, republished by Girls Gone By Publishing in the U.K., Henrietta’s House, Sister of Angels, Smoky House, and Valley of Song. Her children’s books have the same rich sense of place and beautiful descriptions of nature as her adult books, but are also firmly rooted in fairyland. So you can expect a fair mix-up of prayers, angels, the inner thoughts of dogs, and fairies. While I definitely enjoy her adult novels more, this story brought to life the history of smuggling in  Devon in the 19th century and the folklore of that area. This edition also included an introduction with the story of Elizabeth Goudge’s own connection to the Devon area and her inspiration. The cover and illustrations by C. Walter Hodges were also really charming.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Vintage Kidlit Summer: Canadian Summer by Hilda Van Stockum

Canadian Summer by Hilda Van Stockum

Happy Summer everyone! 
I thought it would be fun to join the Vintage Kidlit Summer reading challenge hosted by Anna Rose Johnson and Faith Elizabeth Hough. 

This week’s challenge is Summer Vibes, so I chose Canadian Summer by Hilda Van Stockum. My husband rescued this vintage copy from the library discard shelf. But the series, which includes The Mitchells, Canadian Summer, and Friendly Gables, has also been reprinted by Bethlehem Books.

This is the sequel to The Mitchell’s, which I read aloud to my kids many years ago. The Mitchell’s is set in Washington, DC during World War II. The mother of a large, boisterous family is trying to hold down the home front while her husband is a soldier. In Canadian Summer, father has returned, but the only place he has been able to find work is Montreal. He can’t find a house to rent anywhere in Montreal, so he moves the family to a rustic ski lodge in rural Canada for the summer, where they have no electricity, running water, or telephone. To add to Mother’s exasperation, all of their trunks have been lost on the way. 
This is one of those rare children’s books with no orphans! Instead we have a large Catholic family of nine, including Granny.  It reminded me very much of All-of-a-Kind Family. 

I found a kindred spirit with the mother in this one who one moment feels like “one of those clever mothers in the Parents Magazine who are forever finding ways to improve their children,” and moments later after disaster ensues, goes back to the kitchen “wondering whether she was different from the Parents Magazine mothers or wether it was her children who were different.”

The family’s faith is embedded throughout in everyday ways from going to Mass with hilarious results to the kids praying when they are lost. There is also a beautiful moment when Peter asks his mother what she hopes he will be when he grows up, and she answers, “I want you to become men and women who are easily moved by God’s inspiration. I think there is nothing more beautiful in the world than a soul who is sensitive to the language of God, whether He speaks in nature, or in art, or through people, or whispers directly to our hearts. I think we are happy and alive just so much as our ears are open to His voice and our eyes to his handiwork. That is what I wish for you and that alone. Then I know you will choose the right way of life for yourselves.”

If you’d like to know more about Hilda Van Stockum, the Plumfield Moms podcast did a wonderful interview with her son here.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Building Their House of Straw: Pig Tales Part 11

That summer, Arnold and Tillie got a new more spacious plastic house. As the air grew colder, Brent came out and built them a wooden floor and a door with heavy plastic flaps.

Ella and I came out one day and raked all of the old wet straw out of their house, so we could put new dry straw in its place. Arnold and Tillie were very curious about the big plastic bag full of straw. Arnold stuck his head and front legs into the bag to investigate. Then he disappeared up to his haunches into the bag. 

He came out with a big mouthful of straw. He trotted over to his house, dropped the straw inside and began to rearrange. Tillie tried and tried to pick up her own mouthful of straw but she couldn’t quite get a mouthful. Arnold carried several other mouthfuls into the house and continued to arrange it to his liking.

Once the house was full of straw, I asked Ella, “Why don’t we bank some of the old straw around the bottom of the house to insulate like Pa Ingalls did in Little House on the Prairie.” So, I began to rake the hay and pile it around the side of the house. Arnold came out of the house and grabbed another mouthful of hay. But this time he didn’t go into the house. “Arnold, you missed your house!” Arnold walked right up beside of me and dropped the bundle of hay on the pile I had made, proving that not only are pigs smart, they enjoy a good literary reference! Thanks, Pa Ingalls. 

*Pig Tales Part 11*

Friday, February 19, 2021

One More Apple: Pig Tales Part 10

The year turned round and it was apple season again. But this year Fall was rainy just like summer. The apple harvest was sadly small. It was so small that the pigs ate it almost all in one day.

The family had a picnic in the backyard. Dozens of small children were running around, petting the pigs and throwing them apples. Arnold and Tillie barely knew where to look for the next apples. The kids threw in all the apples in the baskets, and all the apples on the ground, and they even shook the trees so that more apples fell down. 

Arnold and Tillie had so much fun with the kids that day and ate so many apples that they could barely make it back up the hill. But still they didn’t want to go to sleep, hoping that some small child might still appear with just one more….apple.


*Pig Tales Part 10*

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Big Blue Bowl: Pig Tales Part 9

With summer came hot weather and the shedding of their shaggy winter’s coat. Then a strange blue bowl appeared in their pen. Mabel and Ella filled it with water. Was it a giant water dish? The water tasted good, but the children jumped in the bowl in their bare feet. They splashed around, and said, “Come on Arnold, try the pool!”

We had also left an old dog house, Arnold’s former home, in the pen, and it was so rainy that summer that the bottom of the doghouse had filled with water. It was so rainy that a giant frog had even moved into the doghouse. One day, the family noticed that Arnold and Tillie were wet, but they hadn’t been in the wading pool. They had made their own pool and were soaking in the doghouse. Soon, the pigs realized that they could soak their trotters in the blue pool too. Now they had two pools, the one we bought and the one they made.

*Pig Tales Part 9*

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Tillie Gives a Lecture: Pig Tales Part 8


Soon, it was summer again, and Arnold had lived with us for a whole year. We decided to expand the pigs’ grazing area, and bought some new movable electric fencing.  We staked the new white fence in the yard around the pen. Brent cut a hole in the gate, so the pigs could walk right through into the green grass.  It hurt like the dickens when you got too close to the electric fence, but it also meant no more harnesses and so much more room to roam and eat yummy grass.

However, one day the fence malfunctioned, and Arnold got out in to the yard. Brent had to hoist Arnold, who was quite a bit stouter than when he arrived, and carry the squirming, squealing pig back into the pen, where Tilly was waiting.


From tiny Tillie came a snort the family had never heard before, deep and gruff like a mama sow. She was giving Arnold a lecture he would not soon forget. After a few minutes of oinking, Arnold lowered his head in shame and trotted back to his house, where he slunk into the very back and stared at the wall.

*Pig Tales Part 8*

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

A Changed Pig: Pig Tales Part 7

After a long, cold winter, snug in the hay house, the sun began to shine and the green grass grew. Tilly got a pink harness and Arnold got a new bigger blue harness. They got to go out in the yard and graze. Tilly ate so much grass and was so blissfully happy that she was like a toddler falling asleep standing up. Ella was sitting by a tree and Tillie came and stood beside her. She began to droop. She began to tilt, and then she fell asleep with her head in Ella’s lap. 

From that day, Tillie was a changed pig. She became friendlier and her face didn’t look so squashed. Her snout grew, she learned to grin, and even her tail began to curl when she was happy, which was most of the time.


*Pig Tales Part 7*