Vacation Reading

This post was started in the midst of my recent vacation, but then there were internet connection issues and piles of stuff to go through when I got back to Texas and, well, you know how it is. 

Part of my trip was spent at a friend’s house who is also a big kid lit fan.  She had stacks of books scattered throughout her adorable 1930s apartment (did I mention the doorknobs?  Quite possibly the cutest doorknobs ever!).  There are certain advantages to spending a few days with a fellow kidlit fan. 

#1–There are definitely more than a few conversations about books. 

#2–She has lots and lots of books, many of which are either on my mental or actual goodreads to-read list.  I think this has been the most I’ve read on a vacation in a very long time. 

The first night I was there, I picked up When the Sirens Wailed by Noel Streatfeild.  Streatfeild is best known for her Shoe books, but she wrote so much more.  I’ve now read most of her semi-autobiographical books, including A Vicarage Family and On TourWhen the Sirens Wailed is about three children who are evacuated during the Blitz in World War II.  Though it’s definitely not my favorite Streatfeild, there are many things that I loved about it.  First, and I think most importantly, this book is about a poor family.  They’re barely making it–a simple thing like figuring out what to put their few things in for the journey is a very big deal. A complete meal or some candy is also a very big deal.   And though its subtle, you kinda get the parent’s frustration at the government assuming that all families had suitcases for everyone.  There are plenty of little details about rationing and food.  And when the kids return to London, the terror during the bombing feels infinitely real.  Published decades after the war, this is one of the last books Streatfeild published.  According to the brief blurb at the back, this book is partially based on “the vivid memories of her own experiences in the Women’s Voluntary Service.”

As soon as I finished Sirens, I realized that Wendy just might have Return to Gone-Away, a book my library doesn’t have (shame on them!).  After some intense searching, I found it and gulped it down.  This has got to be one of the ultimate fantasy novels for folks who love old houses.  Treasures abound inside!  Kids get stuck in a dumbwaiter (just like Katie John–is there a book featuring an old house where kids don’t get stuck in the dumbwaiter?).  Major decorating decisions are made.  And practically speaking, enough antique furniture and jewels are found to finance the whole thing.  (Jealous!  All we found was a very scary tissue box cover and a fabulous 1948 phone book).

As someone who is regularly fighting to preserve the old and unique, books like this make me extremely happy.  Every single person is in love with the Villa Caprice.  They work really hard at it and live with the quirks.  It just makes me very satisfied.  How I wish I was reading this in the spring of 2009, as I was renovating my own house.  Or even better–that I had read it as a kid and these books had been a part of my life for decades.

My final book during my sojurn at Wendy’s was The Keeping Days by Norma Johnston.  I ended up with very mixed feelings.  I know it’s based on the author’s grandmother’s life, but at the same time, it feels way too modern.  It’s almost issue-y.  But it was refreshing to have another book about the past where everything isn’t perfect–there’s anger and frustration.  I get so tired of the “rosy glow” of history–the people who say “I wish I lived back then.”   And it always seems like a lot of these folks’ ideas about the past are based on books–you know, the ones that leave out the not so good stuff.

I rounded out my kidlit vacation reading with the second half of the Octavian Nothing opus by M. T. Anderson.  This is one of those books that takes a bit of effort to get into, but once you’re there. . .  These two novels are quite possibly some of the best modern historical fiction I’ve read in a very long time.  Anderson explores all the complexities of race and the American Revolution through the very real eyes of Octavian.  This isn’t one of my favorite eras of history, but I recommend these books without reservation.  Skip Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains (also about slaves in the time of the Revolution) and focus your attention on the other Anderson.

I also scored more than a few books at various antique shops and used book stores throughout the midwest.  Methinks it’s time to revisit Beverly Cleary later this summer. . .

What are you reading on summer vacation?

Published by Melissa Prycer

Professional history and museum nerd, among other things. Working to help build a better museum field and a better Dallas. Formerly Executive Director at Dallas Heritage Village.

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