Love / Newbery Book Review

Julie of the Wolves, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Summer of the Swans

It has been over three weeks since I last posted. This is my excuse:

For those of you who didn’t know, Forrest and I just got back from a nine-day trip to Paris, France with a group from Multnomah studying French history. I feel like we saw everything you’re meant to see in Paris: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triumph, the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and oh so much more. It was a beautiful trip and one that I’ll look back on with fondness coupled with the hope of returning someday.

The week before we left was a whirlwind of parents coming in to town, Francie being really sick, packing, getting all my hair chopped off and finishing Julie of the Wolves. Obviously I didn’t get to writing about it then. While in Paris I finished Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and started Summer of the Swans, which I just finished yesterday. Whew. So, here are my condensed thoughts on the last three Newbery winners.

When I read Julie of the Wolves Fran had been sick for over a week. When my parents arrived on Wednesday she had finally started to eat again, which was a relief. There is nothing fun about a sick dog, especially because they can’t tell you what’s wrong and vet bills before International travel is enough to send anyone to the nut house.

While I know I really can’t compare Fran to a wolf I will point out that despite the difference in size and temperament they do share the same genus. And once again, my life seemed to take on the tone of the book I’m reading at the time. To tell the truth, I loved this story with all my heart and was indescribably sad to see it end. It’s set in the wild Alaskan frontier and is rich with a culture that is foreign to most of us. The Eskimo’s are fascinating in their traditions and ability to communicate with animals. Julie, who has lost both mother and father, runs away from where she’s staying after being forced to marry at a young age. She gets lost in the tundra and it is only after befriending a pack of wolves that she finds her way, both emotionally and physically. It’s a beautiful coming of age story as Julie learns what is most important to her and gains independence from anyone or anything that might force her to act differently. I rate it five stars! Make it ten!

I had read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH rather recently but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a second read-through for the blog. This book is absolutely effortless to read. I was in Paris and had just finished reading Leviathan, recommended by Missy Takano, and was a little disappointed at the thought of needing to slip into another story after such an exciting tale. But in no time at all I was thoroughly captivated by Mrs. Frisby, her children, and the rats escape from NIMH. If you’ve only seen the animated movie that was made years ago you’re missing out because it’s nothing like the book.

Mrs. Frisby and her three children live in two homes: one during the cold season and another for the warm season.  Disaster strikes when the farmer decides to plow early and Mrs. Frisby’s winter house, located in the garden, will be destroyed.   While normally the mice could just pick up and make the trek to their summer home they are faced with a predicament.  Timothy, the youngest and frailest of the children, is too sick to be moved.  Mrs. Frisby is forced to go to the rats for help and in the process learns some enlightening information about her late husband.

As a general rule I’m always a fan of books with animals as the main characters so I was a sucker for this one.  But more than it being a cute tale I found that Mrs. Frisby provided a safe and easy environment for me to slip into while in the midst of feeling like most around me was foreign – from my hair to the unknown French language all around me.

While there wasn’t much in the previous book that mirrored my current life experiences (I have yet to be trapped, injected and tested like the rats of NIMH) there was much to identify with in Summer of the Swans.  True, my brother is not “retarded” (book’s words, not mine) and true I don’t own orange tennis shoes like Sara and I am no longer a teenager, but I closely identified with her swing of emotions, not to mention that she felt insecure about her hair too.  (Disclaimer: when I talk about my hair in this venue, Facebook or otherwise it is not my pathetic attempt for affirmation.  On the contrary it is just me expressing my true emotions at the time.  So there is no need to comment, praise or affirm my hair or anything else about my person.)

Like so many other Newbery winners this is a story about the uncomfortableness of growing up.  When just a few months before Sara had felt fine with herself and the world she lived in she now swings from high joys to low depressions.  At one moment she is lauding her orange tennis shoes and the next she is attempting to dye them a different color in an attempt to hide the hugeness of her feet.  She at the same time loves her little brother and in the same turn is frustrated by his inability to move quickly or speak.  But when he gets lost in the woods and she is forced to search for him with an unlikely friend she realizes what is really important and everything else becomes less significant or at least is put into perspective.

I had similar experiences while in Paris.  At one minute I was okay with my hair and who I was as a person and the next I was crying like I’d lost my best friend.  Some of the wisest words spoken to me while at the Hotel Marignan was that this is an important time for me.  A time where I can learn to love myself for who I am and not what I look like.  To find worth beyond the superficial.  Wasn’t this a lesson I was supposed to learn back in my teenage years?  What I expect most of you would say and what I find myself leaning toward is that it’s a lesson we learn for the rest of our lives: contentment.

All that to say, like Sara I am learning to embrace myself and my hair.  And like I wrote in my journal as the plane descended (quite gracefully I might add) into the Charles de Gaulle airport:  “And then the clouds clear and France appears and hair doesn’t matter so much anymore.”

Till next time…

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One thought on “Julie of the Wolves, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Summer of the Swans

  1. You were one busy reader in the midst of all the travel whirl! I admire the fact that you are dedicated to your work/art. Passion for it flows from your veins. Hooray for Julie of the Wolves! An ode to my birth place tho we are not Eskimos. And taking care of your wolf Fran while you were in France was an adventure all its own. Hmmm..Fran the wolf who loves mister moose :) All so …so…Alaska :)

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