The Wild Angel

I love children’s books that are about ordinary lives: no magic, no amulets, no spells, just children going about their everyday business. Some of my very favorite books are in this category: Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, the Little House books, the Melendy books by Elizabeth Enright — and now, among those, these books about the Cares children, Theodore, Jane, Hubert, and Edie, living their lives in Summerton, Massachusetts, around the turn of the century.

Last year, I read E.C. Spykman’s book A Lemon and a Star, and found it pitch-perfect: she understood better than almost any author I’ve ever read the way children are overwhelmed by incidents adults barely notice, and take events in stride that adults cannot bear. This book is more of the same. Theodore, now fourteen, is completely disgusted with all of female creation. Jane finds herself utterly bewildered because she must be educated (her parents try several methods, from a dreadful French governess to an equally dreadful girls’ school in Charlottesville.) Hubert, the only pacific one of the family, is forced into dancing school by evil Aunt Charlotte. And Edie, the baby, is developing her own personality: loyal, persistent, fierce.

The book gives what it’s really like to be a child in strong doses, which means it’s not all innocence and unicorns, not by a long chalk. The chapter in which Jane goes to school is quite difficult to read, because, having grown up only among her siblings, she doesn’t understand certain kinds of social interaction and can make nothing of the manipulations and machinations of the other schoolgirls. This leaves her lonely and bereft to the point that she is intensely grateful to sprain her ankle. And worst of all is that she doesn’t understand why she must go to school at all:

She urgently wanted someone to know that the things she knew were the right things. Didn’t she know all about the Red House from start to finish, its animals alive and dead, the trap door in the cellar, all the roads of Summerton, the happenings of all the seasons?

But this knowledge is not enough to save her; children are subject to adult whims like learning, and she must suffer for a while.

By the end, all the children have come back to where they belong. Even Theodore has received a much-needed lesson on the valuable female half of the species. But the destination is less important than the journey. I was so delighted to spend some more time in the presence of the Cares children; the fact that there are two more of these books makes me even happier.

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19 Responses to The Wild Angel

  1. vanbraman says:

    Thanks, you mentioned two of my favorite series, so I decided to see if I could get ‘A Lemon and a Star’ from my local library. I had to go outside our local system and even then very few libraries have the book. It looks like I can find the others also, so if I like the first I will try and read them all.

    • Jenny says:

      Which were your favorite series? But yes — I’m delighted that you decided to go find the first of these. I’m going to bet that you really like it.

      • vanbraman says:

        Anne of Green Gables and The Little House Books. I have all of them :-). Of course, these are not my only favorite series. Just the ones that you mentioned. The first book is on the way and I should have it by the weekend.

  2. Lisa says:

    You’ve mentioned some of my favorite childhood books, the ones that are still on my shelves and re-read – I don’t meet many people who have know the Melendys, sadly. I’m also going to look for A Lemon and a Star. These sound really good – thanks!

    • Jenny says:

      Lisa, you cannot believe how often I’ve re-read the Melendy books. I read The Saturdays maybe every week as a child, for a while. I’ve probably read them hundreds of times. Wonderful, wonderful books. I forgot the One of a Kind Family books, above, too…

      • Lisa says:

        I was pleasantly surprised that our city libraries have the first two of the Spykman books!

        and oh yes, the All-of-a-Kind family – if we’re talking about the same ones – the family in New York City? Are you a Betsy-Tacy fan too? I read the high school books, not the younger ones.

      • Jenny says:

        Yes, the All-of-a-Kind Family turns into the One-of-a-Kind Family when little Charlie is born. :) I was never a Betsy-Tacy fan when I was a child, but my daughter is enjoying them. I liked the other Betsy books, by Carolyn Haywood: B is for Betsy, Betsy and Billy, Back to School with Betsy, and so forth. Those are terrific.

  3. therelentlessreader says:

    I love children’s books that are about ordinary lives: no magic, no amulets, no spells, just children going about their everyday business. <~~ Yes! Childhood is crazy enough and you don't always have to add vampires or dragons to make their lives more interesting :) A Lemon and a Star sounds wonderful!

    • Jenny says:

      That’s well put! I like the childhood fantasy books, too (Diana Wynne Jones, Edward Eager, J.K. Rowling) but I honestly think the ordinary ones are my very favorites.

  4. biblioglobal says:

    I second the vote for the Melendys and will keep an eye out for this series. Another great set of family-growing-up books that I find are not well known are the Family from One End Street books by Eve Garnett. You might want to check those out as well.

  5. Jeanne says:

    We offered the Melendys and the Noel Streatfield books to our kids, along with one or two of the Happy Hollisters. I’ve never heard of these before! Luckily, never too late.

    • Jenny says:

      I got the recommendation from Susan at Pages Turned, and I’m so happy I did! I haven’t read any Happy Hollisters. Those sound good.

  6. CJ says:

    I’ve just requested A Lemon and a Star from our library system. This sounds like just the kind of book my daughter likes (she’s seven and has already read and re-read the Little House series and just finished her second reading of Anne of Green Gables), and this series has the added benefit of being set in Massachusetts, which might help give us more insight into our current “home.” Several of the series you mention are new to me (although we read an excerpt of Five Children and It (which you mentioned in the linked review) just last week, and my daughter is eager to read it once it comes in at the library). I am thrilled to have more children’s literature to add to our reading list! Thank you for this review!

    • Jenny says:

      I have lots of great children’s-book recommendations! Have you tried the All-of-a-Kind Family books? Or Caddie Woodlawn? And my very favorite of E. Nesbit’s books is actually the one that doesn’t include magic: The Railway Children. Good luck!

      • CJ says:

        Thanks for the recommendations! We’ve not tried those. We’ve been working through the books excerpted in the Writing with Ease workbooks from Susan Wise Bauer, but I always love getting new suggestions!

  7. Jenny says:

    *wail* I can’t GET these BOOKS. I can’t GET them! I have ordered Terrible Horrible Edie on PaperbackSwap and put the others on my wish list but I HATE reading things out of order! Stop making them sound so awesome, Proper Jenny!

    I love the children’s books that properly got to what it’s like being a kid. That’s one reason I love Rumer Godden so much — there’s this part of Miss Happiness and Miss Flower where it talks about how children are not asked if they want to go where they’re being sent. I don’t know. It just sticks with me so vividly.

  8. Susan says:

    Makes me so happy you’re continuing to love E.C. Spykman, Jenny.

    :)

    :)

    :)

  9. Pingback: Bookends: November 2012 « Imperfect Happiness

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