Category Archives: 2016 Back to the Classics

Back to the Classics 2016 Wrap-Up

This was my first year participating in the Back to the Classics Book Challenge…or any book challenge for that matter! I ended up reading about 60 books this year (that doesn’t include all of the picture books I read to my youngest child)! I definitely managed to get one in all 12 categories qualifying me for 3 entries in the challenge! Most of the books I read for this challenge were read as audio books while doing housework (and definitely helped with my processing speed deficits).

1.  A 19th Century Classic A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

2.  A 20th Century ClassicThe Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

3.  A classic by a woman author – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

4.  A classic in translationThe Book of Ruth from the Bible in its original Hebrew

5.  A classic by a non-white authorBlues People: Negro Music in White America by LeRoi Jones

6.  An adventure classicCount of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classicUtopia by Thomas More

8.  A classic detective novelMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the titleMansfield Park by Jane Austen

10. A classic which has been banned or censoredThe Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

12. A volume of classic short stories Just so Stories by Rudyard Kipling

They were all good, but now for some awards…

New Favorite Author: Agatha Christie

Books That Surprised Me:

  1. Frankenstein – I never had any desire to read Frankenstein, but I needed a free audiobook one day while doing housework and chose it because it was written by a woman. I ended up really enjoying it because it made me think about the choices we make in life. (By the way I did end up reading both versions and I prefer the earlier one!)
  2. Mansfield Park – I have tried to read Jane Austen many times and never successfully managed it. I really struggle with satire, and I believe this might be why I have had so much trouble. I hate romance novels because I find the emotions overwhelming, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mansfield Park was not too overwhelming for me. I believe it is Jane Austen’s style that made the difference.

Most Difficult Book: Ruth in the Original Hebrew

Can’t Believe I Have Gone My Whole Life Without Reading This Book: Just So Stories – What can I say? It’s just darling!!!

Book That Led Down a Rabbit Trail: A Study in Scarlet – Part of the reason I was so late finishing the challenge is because after I read A Study in Scarlet, I proceeded to read all of the other Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle except the Casebook (couldn’t find a good audio recording of that one)!!!

Book That Led to New Musical Favorites: Blues People

Looking forward to starting the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge!!!

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Ruth in the Original Hebrew

For the Classic in Translation category of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, I chose to read the book of Ruth from the Bible in its original Hebrew. In 2015 I read the book of Esther in its original Hebrew, and I have plans to read the book of Jonah in 2017 in its original Hebrew as well. I have taken classes in French, Spanish, and ASL, and I have stunk at all of them! Having an auditory processing disorder makes learning languages difficult. However, although I have only taken one free Hebrew course that mostly went over the letters, I have found that the way in which it was taught worked really well for me. From there I was encouraged to continue to working at reading Hebrew and have slowly but surely improved in my understanding and grammar. One of the things that has been impressed upon me when I have been reading a book in its original language that I am already very familiar with in its English translation, is how many subtleties don’t come through in a translation.

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Growing up, I always thought that the book of Ruth was about…well…Ruth! However, at this point in my life, I see it as being the story of Naomi and how she was so precious to G-d that He went to great lengths to redeem her, and in truth, isn’t that the picture that every single story in the Bible is trying to paint that G-d loves us and will go to great lengths to redeem us? In the first chapter, Naomi travels to the land of Moab with her husband and two sons because of a famine in the land of Israel, and this is where the trouble begins. In Hebrew, it comes across clearly as “Elimelech died, and she stayed.” The boys get married to Moabite women and remain childless for 10 years. “Naomi’s boys die, and she stays.” Naomi knows according to vs. 13 that the hand of G-d has gone out against her and that because of this her daughter-in-laws have suffered as well. When she hears that G-d has visited the land of Israel with food, she prepares to return. When she left Israel, she left full. She had a husband, 2 sons, and it is believed was relatively well off. As she prepares to return to Israel, she is returning empty. She feels very deeply all that she has lost. She tries to convince her daughter-in-laws to go back each to her mother’s household as she believes there is no chance that they could have a life worth living with her. (There are many good reasons for this, but I will not go into this now.) At this Orpah kisses her mother-in-law and returns, but Ruth remains “stuck” to her mother-in-law and issues that famous statement that she will stay with Naomi no matter what bad things might happen and that the only thing that will ever separate her from Naomi is death itself!

Naomi and Ruth return to Israel about the time of Passover, a season of rejuvenation, foreshadowing the provision G-d has already made for them. Naomi is deeply grieved as she returns to the land in which she had previously known so much joy. She is likely as we are when we go back to places and see people who remind us of happier times that seem lost forever. Ruth, however, immediately starts addressing one of their most basic needs: food. She goes out to glean in the fields and just so happens to end up gleaning in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech! Boaz, in the Hebrew, comes off as someone in a position of authority. Throughout the book of Ruth and in multiple settings the imperative and jusive verb tenses are used when he speaks. Boaz goes to great lengths to give Ruth a sense of protection that she otherwise would not have had access to. He provides her with a safe place to glean (and arranges for his workers to drop extra). He feeds her lunch from his table and asks that she not glean anywhere else but from his field. Naomi sees all she gleaned that day, and immediately asks her where she worked today, and Ruth tells her. When Naomi hears about this, she immediately recognizes G-d’s provision for them in the form of Boaz.

At the end of the barley season, Naomi tells Ruth to wash, anoint, and dress herself to go to the threshing floor and uncover Boaz’s feet and lay down at the feet of Boaz. (There have been other suggested interpretations that Ruth’s actions here were risque, but given that the term chayil, a person of strong and valiant character, is applied to both Boaz and Ruth, this seems like a very poor interpretation.) When Boaz tosses and turns in the night awakening to discover a woman lying at his feet, he inquires as to who she is. Instead of stating simply who she is as her mother-in-law had instructed her, she also challenges Boaz to spread his wing of protection over her as a redeemer. Boaz blesses her for seeking a redeemer who will preserve both her living and dead in-laws instead of just seeking any young man who might provide for her alone. Boaz tells her to lie down at his feet for the rest of the night, and he will check with the person who has a closer right than he to redeeming. You know neither one of them probably slept that night  as they rose before there was enough light to recognize anyone so as to protect her character. Boaz has her hold out her headcovering and then places 6 measures of barley in it so she would not return empty handed to her mother-in-law. Ruth then returns to her mother-in-law and tells her everything that happened. Naomi then tells Ruth to sit still until she knows how it turns out because Boaz will not rest until he has the matter settled!

Finally Boaz goes to the gate and meets with the other possible redeemer and the elders. The other redeemer does not mind redeeming the property but is unwilling to marry Ruth and provide an heir for Elimelech’s line. Boaz however is willing. The elders pronounce a blessing upon Ruth and Boaz. Ruth becomes Boaz’s wife. After 10 years of infertility as Mahlon’s wife, she is now able to have a child, a son, Obed! This is yet another reference to G-d’s redemption of Naomi. After seeing the tapestry that G-d has made out of Naomi’s life her neighbors cannot help but bless G-d. The story ends with the genealogy of Obed going through to the birth of King David. My dad likes to say that every family has stories of great faith that get passed from one generation to the next. I believe this was one of those stories in the family of King David. Not only do you see this story being written about and chronicled for future generations in the book of Ruth, but you also see the last chapter in Proverbs (likely written by David’s son Solomon) eluding to this story with the use of “eshet chayil,” or “woman of valor” which appears several times in the book of Ruth. There has been much written about “being a ‘wife of noble character,'” but I think when put in the context of the story of Ruth, we see that a woman of valor is someone who takes whatever hard situation she finds herself in and fights bravely to do what is right! All throughout our history we can point to people like this and how it made a difference just like in our Hanukkah story we read last night: “It only takes a few, who know what’s right and do it to.”

Blues People

For the category of A Classic by a Non-White Author in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, I chose to read Blues People by Leroi Jones. When you read any book, your perception of that book is influenced by your own life experiences. With many books, I don’t feel like my own life experiences have altered my perception enough to warrant calling attention to those experiences; however, in this particular case, I feel that they do. I was born a Southern White Female in Memphis, Tennessee. I grew up surrounded by Blues, Rock and Roll, barbecue, and a colorful cultural history. I lived pretty close to the center of Memphis, but I am pretty sure I spent time in just about every area of Memphis and with all kinds of different people (something my Multicultural Counseling Professor commented on). And I LOVE my region! I have know for as long as I can remember that our history, our crops, our food, our music, our literature, our colloquialisms,…in reality the very fabric of our lives has been affected by the African slave trade. While at times even in my lifetime there has been tension, I contend that great beauty, art, and literature generally speaking only comes from places of great hardship because it is only then that your soul has a groaning that requires an expression…which is what art is!

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Note: Leroi Jones uses quite a few different terms as descriptors. I have decided to stick with the descriptors of White Americans and Black Americans just for its simplicity.

Leroi Jones does an excellent job of breaking down and going through chronologically the evolution of African music into American Blues, Gospel, Rock and Roll, Ragtime, Big Band, Swing, Jazz, Bebop, etc. I was pleasantly surprised while reading the book to realize that I had a pretty decent awareness of most of the major artists within each musical evolution as well as several Africanisms that were apart of my vocabulary and experience growing up. I think what I found particularly fascinating was his delineation between what I will refer to as folk music versus artistic music. Leroi Jones makes the argument that there is a difference between popular music and innovative music. In the popular music category he would place such styles as Gospel, Rock and Roll, Ragtime, Swing, and some variations of Bebop and Big Band music. Innovative music would mostly include Blues and Jazz with bits from the other genres. In fact, he shows that most American music has its origins in early Blues which later morphed into Jazz as Black Americans had different instrumentation available to them and that this evolution is an expression of the Black American experience in different points in time throughout American history. His comparison of European Classical to American Blues and Jazz reminded me of the differences in different kinds of poetry. They are all poetry, and they are all art. But some, like Sonnets and Classical music must follow a specific structure whereas Free Verse and Blues/Jazz has more freedom for “bluing” the notes/words.

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I only have two complaints about the entire book, and after my explanation of these two complaints, I will list some of the artists that stood out to me in my reading of Blues People in case anyone is interested in increasing their sampling of some really innovative American music created and influenced by Black Americans that has been enjoyed by people all over the world! My first complaint is that occasionally his generalizations with regards to White Americans is a bit too broad to paint an accurate picture (for example his argument that all early colonists were humanists that were focused solely on financial interests); however, he was focusing the Black American influence in the development of American music so I think it is excusable. My only other complaint is the last chapter. For one, it was just too long without a natural break in thought. For another thing, it was about Modern music, and he was just too embedded in that era to be able to offer much objectivity. In fact, I believe some of the newer developments in music he alludes to are the beginnings of Soul music. Other than those two things, Leroi Jones offers a very thorough explanation of the development of American music, which we owe to the African Slave Trade and the experiences and relationships of Black Americans in the United States through to the 1960s. It does leave me pondering what he would have had to say about the music of the last 50 years. Who would he have considered to be an innovator? Who would he have considered to just be making a watered down copy of previous innovations? What about James Brown? Aretha Franklin? Michael Jackson? What would he have thought of hip hop and rap? (I actually think he would have especially liked MC Hammer.)

Bessie Smith

King Oliver

Louis Armstrong

Count Basie

Duke Ellington

Dizzy Gillespie

Stravinsky

Charlie Parker

Miles Davis

Ray Charles

Mahalia Jackson

Elvis Presley

John Coltrane

Frankenstein

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I already posted a book for the category of a Classic by a Woman Author for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, but I wasn’t sure if it qualified being a short story so I thought, “What’s the harm in reading one more book!?! I had a lot of housework to do, so I downloaded an audiobook of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley from Librivox. I had never read Frankenstein before and quickly discovered that there are two versions of the story. The first was released in 1818 and the second was released in 1831. Apparently later in life after the death of her husband, second daughter, son, her friend Lord Byrum, and the betrayal of her friend Jane Williams, Mary Shelley felt the need to make Frankenstein more fatalistic. I chose to read the 1818 version because I felt there was more truth and beauty in a less fatalistic view. The 1831 version seems to be the more commonly read version, and I would like to at some point read it as well (maybe next week while I am doing dishes). However, I think that I will probably continue to prefer the 1818 version.

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Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley is the story of a boy interested in science but guided by a loving but non-scientific family who grows into a man with an intense interest in creating life. He eventually succeeds in creating life but lives to regret that decision for the rest of his life. Frankenstein gave me much to think about regarding the decisions we make, the makings of a healthy mind amidst tragedy, and how integral relationships are to our health and well-being. Here are a few quotes from the book that highlight those thoughts.

But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy; and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection. I shall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor medium for the communication of feeling. – Volume 1 Letter 2

You also see this sentiment in the character of Frankenstein’s monster. He was a very gentle and kind creature until he was rejected by all of human society. Truly man cannot live by bread alone. He needs nurture and love.

A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquillity. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquillity of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed. – Volume 1 Chapter 3

I am a very intense and passionate person. Once I get on an idea, I have a hard time letting it go. It is the same with worry. It occurred to me while reading this section that a healthy diet, one that is varied and full of good nutrients, often leads to a healthy body. Therefore, it stands to reason that a healthy mind diet, one that is full of good thoughts and varied inputs, will lead to a healthy mind. I believe this is something I will make an effort to alter for myself this next year.

Now all was blasted: instead of that serenity of conscience, which allowed me to look back upon the past with self-satisfaction, and from thence to gather promise of new hopes, I was seized by remorse and the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures, such as no language can describe. – Volume 2 Chapter 1

Finally I was struck by the importance of developing discipline of mind and character early in life. It is freeing to look back at your life without a sense of guilt, but it is hellacious to have to continue to live with remorse for the rest of your life. This is something worth keeping in mind as I teach my children.

Mansfield Park

I read Mansfield Park for the category of a Classic Which Includes the Name of a Place in the Title for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.

Confession: I have never read a Jane Austen book before. There I said it. I have tried to start one several times, but I was immediately halted each time by my lack of understanding for satire. However, this time, I got my Jane Austen aficionado sister to read Jane Austen with me! We started with Mansfield Park because she thought that would be the easiest one for me to grasp, and Surprise, Surprise! I really enjoyed it!!!!

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I am not a big fan of romance novels. Too often it seems more like female porn than actual literature. However, Mansfield Park was less about romance and more about relationships and social commentary so I found that to be highly enjoyable! The overall plot is as follows: There are 3 sisters. One marries well by marrying Sir Thomas Bertram. One (Mrs. Norris) marries a minister and is supported by her brother-in-law, and the third (Mrs. Price) marries a drunken sailor and has more children than she can take of. The Bertram’s invite Mrs. Price’s daughter, Fanny, to come live with them and their four children at the goading of Mrs. Norris. They all feel like they will be doing a good deed but either tend to degrade her (like Mrs. Norris) or make no notice of her (most of the Bertram family). Edmund (the second of the Bertram’s children) does take notice of Fanny and continues to be a kind, compassionate, and encouraging friend.

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Later in the book Sir Thomas must leave his family for what ends up being several years to address some business concerns in Antigua, likely concerning the slave trade. Unfortunately, while he is away, Mrs. Norris is not the guiding, moral influence he had hoped she would be. Of his four children, Tom (the oldest child) went to Antigua with his father because he had been squandering his father’s fortune. However, this did not fix the problem, and it took Tom coming down with a serious illness that almost killed him to settle him down. Edmund (the second child) managed things quite well at home until a Miss Crawford came to live at the parsonage and he became smitten with her. Moria (the third child) immediately got herself engaged to Mr. Rushworth, a wealthy but very stupid man, and then fell hard for Mr. Crawford who had also moved into the parsonage with his sister. Julia (the fourth child) also fell hard for Mr. Crawford, but Mr. Crawford only had eyes for women who were already engaged. Just before Sir Thomas’ return home, the whole group has gotten caught up in performing a play called Lovers’ Vows, which Sir Thomas would not have deemed appropriate behavior for his children, but Mrs. Norris encouraged them none the less. With the arrival of Sir Thomas and the quick departure of Mr. Crawford, Moria marries Mr. Rushworth only to see Henry again and run off with him after Henry had already started courting Fanny. Julia then elopes with a friend of Tom’s, Mr. Yates, because she doesn’t know what else to do. He is not the brightest fellow but is willing to let Mr. Bertram help him with his career and financial decisions. Fanny is fetched home from a visit to her family to help console the Bertrams of their griefs. When Mr. Rushworth divorces Moria and Henry Crawford refuses to marry her, the family banishes her, and Mrs. Norris travels with her to another country. In the end Edmund and Fanny get married, and Sir Thomas ends up being very pleased because while he had previously been concerned with societal expectations, he had come to realize that there was nothing more important than moral character which Fanny had in abundance.

The experiences of the characters in the book and the lessons that could be drawn from those experiences was what I liked the best about the book. I also particularly loved a conversation between Edmund and Mary Crawford in Chapter 9 which I will include below because it gave me a great deal to think about.

“It is a pity,” cried Fanny, “that the custom should have been discontinued. It was a valuable part of former times. There is something in a chapel and chaplain so much in character with a great house, with one’s ideas of what such a household should be! A whole family assembling regularly for the purpose of prayer is fine!”

“Very fine indeed,” said Miss Crawford, laughing. “It must do the heads of the family a great deal of good to force all the poor housemaids and footmen to leave business and pleasure, and say their prayers here twice a day, while they are inventing excuses themselves for staying away.”

That is hardly Fanny’s idea of a family assembling,” said Edmund. “If the master and mistress do not attend themselves, there must be more harm than good in the custom.”

“At any rate, it is safer to leave people to their own devices on such subjects. Everybody likes to go their own way—to chuse their own time and manner of devotion. The obligation of attendance, the formality, the restraint, the length of time—altogether it is a formidable thing, and what nobody likes; and if the good people who used to kneel and gape in that gallery could have foreseen that the time would ever come when men and women might lie another ten minutes in bed, when they woke with a headache, without danger of reprobation, because chapel was missed, they would have jumped with joy and envy. Cannot you imagine with what unwilling feelings the former belles of the house of Rushworth did many a time repair to this chapel? The young Mrs. Eleanors and Mrs. Bridgets—starched up into seeming piety, but with heads full of something very different—especially if the poor chaplain were not worth looking at—and, in those days, I fancy parsons were very inferior even to what they are now.”

For a few moments she was unanswered. Fanny coloured and looked at Edmund, but felt too angry for speech; and he needed a little recollection before he could say, “Your lively mind can hardly be serious even on serious subjects. You have given us an amusing sketch, and human nature cannot say it was not so. We must all feel attimes the difficulty of fixing our thoughts as we could wish; but if you are supposing it a frequent thing, that is to say, a weakness grown into a habit from neglect, what could be expected from the private devotions of such persons? Do you think the minds which are suffered, which are indulged in wanderings in a chapel, would be more collected in a closet?”

“Yes, very likely. They would have two chances at least in their favour. There would be less to distract the attention from without, and it would not be tried so long.”

“The mind which does not struggle against itself under one circumstance, would find objects to distract it in the other, I believe; and the influence of the place and of example may often rouse better feelings than are begun with. The greater length of the service, however, I admit to be sometimes too hard a stretch upon the mind. One wishes it were not so; but I have not yet left Oxford long enough to forget what chapel prayers are.”

And from later in that same chapter…

“But why are you to be a clergyman? I thought that was always the lot of the youngest, where there were many to chuse before him.”

“Do you think the church itself never chosen, then?”

Never is a black word. But yes, in the never of conversation, which means notveryoften, I do think it. For what is to be done in the church? Men love to distinguish themselves, and in either of the other lines distinction may be gained, but not in the church. A clergyman is nothing.”

“The nothing of conversation has its gradations, I hope, as well as the never. A clergyman cannot be high in state or fashion. He must not head mobs, or set the ton in dress. But I cannot call that situation nothing which has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally, which has the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence. No one here can call the officenothing. If the man who holds it is so, it is by the neglect of his duty, by foregoing its just importance, and stepping out of his place to appear what he ought not to appear.”

You assign greater consequence to the clergyman than one has been used to hear given, or than I can quite comprehend. One does not see much of this influence and importance in society, and how can it be acquired where they are so seldom seen themselves? How can two sermons a week, even supposing them worth hearing, supposing the preacher to have the sense to prefer Blair’s to his own, do all that you speak of? govern the conduct and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit.”

You are speaking of London, I am speaking of the nation at large.”

“The metropolis, I imagine, is a pretty fair sample of the rest.”

“Not, I should hope, of the proportion of virtue to vice throughout the kingdom. We do not look in great cities for our best morality. It is not there that respectable people of any denomination can do most good; and it certainly is not there that the influence of the clergy can be most felt. A fine preacher is followed and admired; but it is not in fine preaching only that a good clergyman will be useful in his parish and his neighbourhood, where the parish and neighbourhood are of a size capable of knowing his private character, and observing his general conduct, which in London can rarely be the case. The clergy are lost there in the crowds of their parishioners. They are known to the largest part only as preachers. And with regard to their influencing public manners, Miss Crawford must not misunderstand me, or suppose I mean to call them the arbiters of good-breeding, the regulators of refinement and courtesy, the masters of the ceremonies of life. The manners I speak of might rather be called conduct, perhaps, the result of good principles; the effect, in short, of those doctrines which it is their duty to teach and recommend; and it will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.”

Just So Stories

For the Volume of Classic Short Stories category of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, I chose to read Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling…because I was already going to be reading them to my daughter for school this year! Let me just start out by saying that I cannot believe I have gone my entire life without Just So Stories! It is an absolutely precious collection of stories heavy on imagination wimsey that Rudyard Kipling made up to tell to his daughter! I do believe my favorite line from the entire book is “Oh Best Beloved!” I cannot wait for my son to be ready to hear these stories!! I hope he will enjoy them as much as my daughter and I have!

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories come from a place mixed with joy and sorrow. He was happily married and relishing in the joy of his new family life with the birth of their first child, a daughter named Josephine or “Effie.” The first 3 stories were stories he used to tell her to put her to sleep, and they had to be told “just so” or Effie would make up and fill in the missing words. Unfortunately a year after these 3 were published Mr. Kipling and both of his daughters came down with an illness that progressed into pneumonia. Effie had to be separated because she was getting worse. She eventually died, but Mr. Kipling was not told until later because they were afraid he would relapse. His younger daughter says that he was never the same again. 

There are a total of 13 stories; however, the 13th tale wasn’t added until a later American edition so not all editions contain The Tabu Tale. All of the tales deal with stories of origin: How the Whale Got His Throat, How the Camel Got His Hump, How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin, How the Leopard Got His Spots, etc. I believe our favorite tales were the ones about a Neolithic little girl named Taffy, specifically the ones that told about How the First Letter was Written and How the Alphabet was Made. Kipling captures the daughter and the father so perfectly I can’t help but wonder if he based Taffy on his little Effie. Truly these are fantastic tales that should not go missed!!!!

The Wizard of Oz

I had originally planned to read Gone with the Wind for the Classic which has been Banned or Censored category in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016. However, I realized that in order to actually finish it at this stage in my life, I would need an audio-book, and I could not find an affordable copy. So…I went back to Google and realized that The Wizard of Oz, which I read to my children this year, has been a banned book!!

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The Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900. It was well received and touted by The New York Times as a book with beautiful illustrations and a story that would appeal to young children and young readers. Despite these and many other accolades including being referred to as “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale” by The Library of Congress, The Wizard of Oz has received quite a bit of criticism. In 1928 the Chicago Public Library, followed apparently by many other libraries across America, banned The Wizard of Oz for “depicting women in strong leadership roles.” The Wizard of Oz continued to be banned by various libraries in the United States throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, despite the acclaim won for The Wizard of Oz by MGM’s film adaptation starting Judy Garland in 1939. In more recent years, The Wizard of Oz has come under criticism for the proposed promotion of witchcraft, not unlike criticisms of the more recent Harry Potter series. Perhaps the most publicized case involving the banning of The Wizard of Oz was a case in 1986 in which seven Fundamentalist Christian families in Tennessee sought to have The Wizard of Oz removed from the school curriculum. The judge ruled that the children of these families should be excused from lessons involving The Wizard of Oz. The families then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States which resulted in SCOTUS refusing to hear their case.

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Fairy tales are stories that parents have told their children since time immemorial to not only teach them how to cope with some of the harsh realities of life but to also offer them hope and courage in the face of these harsh realities. In the paraphrased words of G.K. Chesterton “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” In this light, yes, I can see The Wizard of Oz as being an American Fairy tale, and my children and I really enjoyed reading the story – which is quite different from the MGM film adaptation!! However, there was one part of the book that gave me pause and that was L. Frank Baum’s introduction. The most often quoted section from his introduction is “The Wizard of Oz was written solely to pleasure children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.” That all sounds very wonderful unless you read the section right before that: “Yet, the old-time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as ‘historical’ in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer ‘wonder tales’ in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf, and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incident devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder-tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.” I disagree with this on so many different points! First of all does modern education teach morality? Second of all can morality be taught? Isn’t it the child’s responsibility to decide what ideas presented to him will take root in the recesses of his mind and grow into the principles he chooses to live by? If the principles you choose to live by come from the ideas presented to your mind, shouldn’t you take great care with what ideas your mind is presented with? As C.S. Lewis said “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” So there will be no misunderstanding, I do see worth in The Wizard of Oz. The ideas of kindness, loyalty, courage, and determination are all represented in The Wizard of Oz, and there are even difficulties and heart-aches to be overcome despite L. Frank Baum’s efforts to remove them, which honestly a story without any difficulties or heart-aches wouldn’t be worth writing because it would cease to be interesting and relate-able! Although I do not agree with L. Frank Baum’s introduction at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, I do find that we are in complete agreement on the end of The Wizard of Oz: “I’m so glad to be at home again!” Truly, there is no place like home where you understand and know your surroundings and your surroundings know and understand you, and if that were the only idea you connected with in The Wizard of Oz, I would still consider your time well spent!