2018 Classics Challenge, Fiction, Kids books, What Shannon Read

Black Beauty

BBI thought I’d read a nice animal story after spending a delightful couple of days with The Secret Garden, you know, since I was in the mood for a classic children’s book. So I picked up Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and guys, I WAS NOT PREPARED FOR THIS.

I now know the particular effects of the mistreatment of horses, including but not limited to:

  • Forcing a bit into a horse’s mouth rather than coaxing the horse gently
  • Whipping a horse to make it go faster
  • Taking a jump that’s too high or far for the horse
  • Not feeding a horse correctly
  • Using a check rein to force the horse’s head higher than is natural for the sake of fashion

Omg. I was telling a coworker about how unprepared I was for an animal cruelty story, which inspired her to look up the wikipedia entry for Black Beauty. This is the quote she read me:

The impact of the novel is still very much recognised today. Writing in the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, Bernard Unti calls Black Beauty “the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time.”

Geez, no one told me.

Anyway, Black Beauty is the story of a horse of the same name born in 19th-century England. The book is written in the style of an autobiography, so Black Beauty is telling his own story. From his perspective, we watch as he is sold to several different owners, witnessing mistreatment of other horses and experiencing it himself along the way. He befriends other horses and we get their back stories too.

While the content was sometimes tough for me to read (especially the part where we learn how horses are trained to wear bits and harnesses – Jesus, why do we do this?!), the tone and Black Beauty as a narrator were both fun. He sometimes comments on the things humans do that seem strange to him and, as readers, we’re in on the joke. Anthropomorphism is great for revealing human foibles and giving us a chance to laugh at ourselves as well as reflect on our mistakes and correct them—apparently Sewell’s main objective.

Black Beauty takes us through all his owners and describes the work he does as well as the conditions under which he works. He has a few kind owners and a few awful owners. But there is a happy ending. The moral of the story is that horses need kind treatment and a certain amount of freedom, just like humans.

Also, we should stand up for what’s right:

Our friend stood still for a moment, and throwing his head a little back, “Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?” “No,” said the other. “Then I’ll tell you. It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrongdoer to light. I never see a wicked thing like this without doing what I can, and many a master has thanked me for letting him know how his horses have been used.”

Once I accepted that this was going to be a tough read, I got into the story. But I can’t say I enjoyed it.

Side note: I’m counting this one in the children’s classic category for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge.

2018 Classics Challenge, Fiction, Kids books, Uncategorized, What Shannon Read

The Secret Garden

2998I always want to re-read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett in the spring. Watching things come alive for sad little Mary Lennox is such a delight and this time around it definitely helped me pay attention to the small signs of spring around here. I’m also cataloguing it as my re-read of a classic for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge.

Anyway, if you don’t know the story, the book is a classic of children’s literature set in England in the early part of the 20th century. It’s the story of ten-year-old Mary Lennox, who is born and raised (and spoiled) in India. She’s raised mostly by Indian servants who bow and scrape to her and, again, she’s generally a spoiled brat.

As the book starts, a cholera epidemic wipes out her family and her servants leaving her alone in the house at the same time. Once discovered, she’s shipped to England to live at Misselthwaite, a manor in Yorkshire belonging to her uncle Archibald Craven.

Thus begins my dream life: Mary is pretty much left to her own devices. Servants wait on her and, while she’s lonely at first, she has the run of the mansion as well as the grounds. She makes a friend of Martha, the serving girl who brings her meals, and hears from her about a special garden that’s been locked up for ten years, since the death of the mistress of the house.

Some Things I Love About This Book:

  • IMG_20180405_173333298

    Spring in Northern Indiana is about crocuses and waiting…

    The change in Mary from a skinny, bratty sourpuss to a little girl experiencing the wonders of the natural world as children should. The idea is that nature is transformative: “…and after she had stared for a while she realized that if she did not go out she would have to stay in and do nothing — and so she went out. She did not know that this was the best thing she could have done, and she did not know that, when she began to walk quickly or even run along the paths and down the avenue, she was stirring her slow blood and making herself stronger by fighting with the wind which swept down from the moor. She ran only to make herself warm, and she hated the wind which rushed at her face and roared and held her back as if it were some giant she could not see. But the big breaths of rough fresh air blown over the heather filled her lungs with something which was good for her whole thin body and whipped some red color into her cheeks and brightened her dull eyes when she did not know anything about it.”

  • Exercise is transformative too: “Mary felt lonelier than ever when she knew she was no longer in the house . She went out into the garden as quickly as possible , and the first thing she did was to run round and round the fountain flower garden ten times . She counted the times carefully and when she had finished she felt in better spirits.”
  • And lastly, so are thoughts: One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts — just mere thoughts — are as powerful as electric batteries — as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live. So long as Mistress Mary’s mind was full of disagreeable thoughts about her dislikes and sour opinions of people and her determination not to be pleased by or interested in anything, she was a yellow – faced, sickly, bored and wretched child. Circumstances, however, were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, and moorland cottages crowded with children, with queer crabbed old gardeners and common little Yorkshire housemaids, with springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his “creatures, ” there was no room left for the disagreeable thoughts which affected her liver and her digestion and made her yellow and tired.

I’m leaving lots of details out, but that’s because I think you’ll enjoy reading them yourself. All the above is to say that this novel is many things for me: it’s a romp in Yorkshire; it’s about having a mansion to yourself; it’s about making friends when you are friendless and alone; and it’s about the power of nature and beauty and even your own thoughts. I loved every freakin’ minute of it.

Kids books, That Reading Life

Chapter books we read to our son

Cover of My Big Truck Book

A nouveau classic

As a baby, Jacob had some favorite board books (Sandra Boynton, Is Your Mama a Llama?, Dr. Seuss, anything about trucks, etc.) and we gradually moved up to regular picture books (Berenstain Bears, the Duck on a Bike books, more Dr. Seuss, etc.), which we checked out of the library by the dozen.

Pillow Fort: Chapter books we read to our son

Jacob, when he was still young enough to be read to (and his buddy Bun-bun)

And then we moved on to chapter books, as you do. We read to Jake before bed each night pretty much right up through fifth grade. I remember very clearly the night he asked if we could stop reading at bedtime. I think he already have a girlfriend at that point, a sign of the changing times. Sigh. The days are long but the years are short, yada yada.

But onward!

This post is about chapter books, the ones he remembers listening to and the ones we remember reading. Those two don’t necessarily coincide. Also, my husband and I often read a different book to Jacob as we took turns on bedtime duty, my husband reading one night, me reading the next, one of us reading night after night if a book was getting really good.

Maybe this list will inspire you if you’re a parent of little ones. Or maybe you read the same books to your kids. Meet me in the comments!

The List

Here they are in no particular order and I doubt this is a complete list, sorry.

The Castle in the Attic, My Father's Dragon, Tiger

The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop – A great book if you have a kid that likes knights and castles.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett – A classic.

The Five Ancestors books by Jeff Stone – We read all seven of the originals before the Our of the Ashes books came out. Lots of martial arts in these, plus some good storytelling.


A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket – We did a combo of reading these aloud and listening to the audiobooks in the car. They were great and filled, as Lemony Snicket is, with jokes for the grown-ups too.

Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary – I checked out this audiobook at our library when Jake was about five and we were both riveted. I think we listened to it about four more times throughout his childhood. It’s awesomely narrated by Neil Patrick Harris. Highly recommend.

George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl – Another fantastic audiobook we listened to over and over.

And while we’re on Roald Dahl…

The Witches, The Twits

The Witches – This book is legit creepy.

The Twits – Fun gross stuff.

And moving right along…

Watership Down ,The Magic Thief, The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring

Watership Down by Richard Adams

The Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas – These weren’t my favorite, but Jake liked them.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien – Ben’s father read these to him and his siblings when they were kids and Ben read them all to Jacob. Maybe he’ll keep up the tradition.

Redwall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Tarzan of the Apes, Little Women

Redwall by Brian Jacques

Hufflepuff scarf

I’m a proud Hufflepuff. Jake and Ben are Slytherins. We make it work.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – We read each book and then watched the movie. Delightful.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs – This one was so much fun. I’d never read it before.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – We didn’t quite make it through this but we made it far enough, I’d say. It’s a book I adore, but I’d forgotten how condescending Marmee could be. In that vein, I found The Big Trouble with Little Women interesting.

Book of a Thousand Days, Knight's Castle, Treasure Island

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale – An off-beat one to be reading to Jacob, but we both enjoyed it.

Knight’s Castle (Tales of Magic, #2) by Edward Eager – More knights! More castles!

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dinosaurs Before Dark

Sideways Stories from Wayside School (Wayside School #1) by Louis Sachar

Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney – I think he got too old around book six. He also would read these himself or sometimes pull an old one out and we’d read a few chapters for fun.

The Magic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne – Good ole Jack ‘n Annie.

And that’s honestly all I can remember right now! It’s been fun to look back though and talk about it with Jacob.