Books

The Story of Brave Men

This week has been an exciting one in Jersey.

Among other things, we had a Royal Visit.

HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) did a whistle-stop tour of our lovely island. And although we've had a very damp week, actually on Thursday we were blessed with glorious sunshine, so that was brilliant especially for all the islanders, including hundreds of children, who came out to greet her.

The Princess Royal opened our newest school (the fabulous Les Quennevais School) and a new sports training facility, and visited the Jersey Zoo ... she's the patron of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Waterloo memorial St Saviour's Church JerseyBut for me, her most important duty during the day took her to St Saviour's Church where she unveiled a very special memorial plaque in the church.

In St Saviour's Churchyard in Jersey there are many interesting stories. In 2018 I spent many months wandering around the graveyard with the then Rector of St Saviour, the Rev Peter Dyson, who was investigating the people laid to rest there.

This resulted in a series of 26 episodes broadcast by BBC Radio Jersey and it was fascinating. I learned so much.

As a result of his research, Peter found many dozens of men who are connected to the Napoleonic era... the Napoleonic and Peninsula Wars, including the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Men were found who fought on the British side and even one who fought under the French emperor. It's thought St Saviour's is the resting place of more Napoleonic and Peninsula Wars veterans than anywhere else in the world. It's astonishing that so many veterans of these campaigns eventually found their way to Jersey.

In 2020 a book was published which outlines their stories - 'Napoleonic War Veterans Buried at St. Saviour’s Church, Jersey' edited by one of the world's leading experts in the period, William Mahon.

Napoleonic & Peninsula Wars memorial Oct 2020In Autumn 2020, a memorial was placed in the north Lady Chapel of the Church but the unveiling of the plaque was a year delayed because of the COVID19 pandemic. Finally, this past Thursday, June 24th 2021, that memorial was unveiled by The Princess Royal ... there was a special church service and colourful celebrations including lots of children and members of the Jersey community.

In October 2020, just before Rev Peter Dyson retired as Rector of the parish, I returned to the churchyard at St Saviour's Church to talk to him about the memorial, some of the stories it told and the importance of the research.

This was played in two parts on the BBC Radio Jersey Sunday Morning Breakfast show on October 4 2020.

Here is the complete story. 


*images from St Saviour's Church Jersey Facebook Page

 

 


Trust the Author

If you've been following this daily blog, you'll know that I talk quite a lot about books and writing. That's because writing and books are my passion.

Yesterday I was going on about children's literature ... Whether it's writing, or reading, or even reviewing (yes I do review books from time to time as well) I do spend rather a lot of time with books and immersed in stories.

On this Sunday I'm thinking about my own story. As a person of faith, I believe God is involved in my life, and is in effect, involved in writing my story.

It's so tempting to just grab that pen and do my own thing, crossing out what might have been planned and scribbling in other stuff that may or may not be good for me or where I'm meant to be.

So this is a reminder to me that God has it all in control.

I just need to trust!

Have a great day everyone!

God is still writing the story quote


A Little Pixie Dust

"All children, except one, grow up."

A classic and inspired opening line from one of the best loved children's stories of all time.

Yes, today I'm talking about 'Peter Pan'.

Not just the Boy who Wouldn't Grow Up but the book, and the play and the man who created him - J.M.Barrie.

Full disclosure here  ... I am an avid reader of classic children's stories. I have a good collection of them, some of which I read first as a child and some which I re-read over and over, always finding something new in them every time of reading.

Yes I know many of the books I love were written in a different time, and maybe some might say that they are not as 'relevant' to the young generations that have come along since they were written, but what I love about these tales is that they are often beautifully crafted, invariably include fantastical storytelling and they have the ability to transport me into another world.

As a would-be children's author (I'm still working on it by the way) I recognise now that I was probably born in the wrong time, because these days to be a children's writer I guess one needs to be more 'edgy' than people think the writers of yesteryear were.

Except that it's all relevant. In their time, many children's stories DID speak into issues and situations, including social issues,  and sometimes challenged them, albeit subtly. And many of them are just simply about human nature and those values which, I hope, we will all want to treasure regardless of the times.

Peter Pan coverWhich brings me to the story of Peter Pan, which is really partly about 'youthful innocence and escapism'. Peter is a mischievous, free-spirited, rather cocky and careless boy who doesn't want to grow up. He is determined to be independent but it's only when he meets a girl called Wendy and her brothers that he gradually realises that love is also part of the human equation. I don't know about you but that's a lesson lots of us can learn, whatever era we live in!

These days the story of Peter and Wendy and their adventures in Neverland, the fairy Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, the ghastly Captain Hook, are all well known to us through numerous interpretations, including in various movies and cartoons down the years.

Although J.M. Barrie created Peter early on, he really made his first main public appearance in a play ...  Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up ... which debuted at the Duke of York's Theatre in London on December 27 1904 - interesting because stage productions of Peter Pan are often now associated with the Christmas period and the pantomime season, at least in the UK. Peter Pan first page

In 1911 the story of Peter and Wendy began to reach a wider, worldwide audience when it was reworked as a novel with that classic opening line.

My treasured copy of the story, which I picked up years ago in an old book shop, was first published in 1951 and at the start of the book there is this inscription ...

Do you know that this book is part of the J.M.Barrie "Peter Pan Bequest"? This means that Sir J.M.Barrie's royalty on this book goes to help the doctors and nurses to cure the children who are lying ill in the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London

And this is what I love most about Peter Pan. 

SO much has been written about Peter, Wendy, Neverland, the dog nurse Nana, the whole 'cast' of the play and the subsequent stories, books and movies,  J.M. Barrie himself and the children who so-called 'experts' reckon Peter and his characters were based on.

J.M.Barrie is best known for Peter but he wrote so much more, including many plays and stories which address social concerns. And I love the fact that in 1929, Barrie assigned the copyright of the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital, a leading children's hospital in London.

I understand the copyright status is unclear these days because Peter Pan is now generally in what is called 'the public domain'. Original copyright in the UK ran out on June 19th 1987, the 50th anniversary of Barrie's death but that was later extended to another couple of decades, and there have been some developments since in other parts of the world. But that doesn't take away from the fact that down the years GOSH has benefitted greatly from the 'Peter Pan Bequest'.

I know Great Ormond Street Hospital a little, having visited to report as a journalist and in a personal capacity with loved ones, and they do amazing work. It's a hospital dedicated to the care of children and it IS a very special place where children are at the centre!

So today - as we mark the day in 1937 that J.M. Barrie left this earth - I was trying to think of a way to celebrate him and his most well known characters. And I found this quote and this image ...  which is just inspiring. 

Whatever we 'believe' in, we all need trust and faith, if only in those around us. And a little of 'pixie dust', even if not scattered by Tinkerbell herself, helps us to dream and create a little bit of magic for ourselves and others.

I Love It!

Peter Pan quote


A June Wedding

Mid June is a popular time for weddings. The prospect of  fine weather always helps of course although in Great Britain and the UK one can never count on a good day, even in summer. But I guess there's more chance of sunshine in June than at other times and these days, of course, the photographs of the day will be the lasting memories for many couples so a bit of sun goes a long way to making a happy Wedding Day!

In the past year, a few of my friends have had to postpone or scale down their wedding day plans because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, and I know for some that has been rather traumatic. 

But I also know for many couples who've had to change their plans it has meant they have focussed more on the day and the commitment they are making rather than the 'party'. And that has to be a good thing, doesn't it? 

Why am I thinking about weddings? Well ... it's because it was on this day - June 16th - in 1855 that a couple called William Booth and Catherine Mumford were married in a very scaled down simple ceremony in London. 

Stand by for a blatant plug for the first book I wrote!

William and Catherine BoothWilliam and Catherine Booth were the founders of The Salvation Army, which is now a global Christian church and charity movement working in more than 130 countries, but on their wedding day they were still 'seeking' their future. William was a struggling Christian evangelist and his travels across England had kept him and his fiancée apart for many months.  

There are no photos of the day itself, although the couple did get photographs taken across the years so we know what they looked like when they were young.

Their marriage would be the start not just of a busy family life (eventually they produced eight children) but also of their shared Christian service which would take them around the country, working first in the Methodist Church and finally in their own evangelistic ministry which would lead them back to London a decade later. It was in 1865 that they would create The East London Christian Mission which in 1878 became The Salvation Army.

Since their first meeting in 1852 William Booth and Catherine Mumford had regularly written letters and notes to each other and that correspondence continued throughout their marriage, as they were often separated by work and circumstances. And it was those letters, which are held in the British Library in London, which inspired me to write my first book.

WIlliam and Catherine front cover Sept 2013 Monarch books

'William and Catherine, the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' was published by Monarch (Lion Hudson) books in 2013 and it draws not just on that personal correspondence but also on my imagination.

Included in the book are extracts from the letters, with kind permission of the Booth Family and the British Library. As I read their notes and letters I learned, I think, a little about Catherine and William's characters and so, in addition to extracts from many of the couple's letters and the historical narrative, my story also includes some 'imaginative' excerpts - my 'storytelling', my ideas on how they would have reacted to certain circumstances and events in their lives, some insignificant but others which are important in the history of The Salvation Army.

Which brings me to June 16 1855 and that quiet wedding in London. This excerpt, this little 'story', is in Chapter 7 of my book and is my imagining, based on what I know happened on the day and my understanding of the couple involved, of what transpired on that rather chilly day in mid June.

The sun emerged from behind the early summer clouds as Catherine and William stepped over the threshold of the Stockwell Green Congregational Church.
Catherine clutched her new husband’s hand, feeling small yet secure. William looked down at Catherine’s sweet face and smiled. He could feel her shaking ever so slightly and a rush of protectiveness towards this woman overwhelmed him. He could hardly believe that, after all this time and so many obstacles, they were at last man and wife.
It had been a short and solemn service and blessing. Perfect. Catherine had been pale and had spoken quietly, her voice quivering as she repeated her vows of love and obedience. In contrast, William had found that his voice, which he was accustomed to using to rather larger congregations, had rung loudly around the church. As his “I do!” echoed around the building it had provoked a little giggle from his beloved. Then, in the cavernous chapel, William and Catherine had knelt at the altar and pledged themselves to God and to each other.
Behind Catherine, William noticed that his father-in-law, John Mumford, and his sister Emma, the only witnesses to the solemn ceremony, were now exiting the building and squinting in the watery sunshine. For a moment he regretted the absence of the rest of his family. Of course, it was unlikely that Ann would attend, but he had hoped that his mother and her namesake, his sister Mary, all those miles away in Nottingham, might have been able to make it, even at such short notice. However, he and Catherine had been thrilled when Emma had sent word that they would be able to afford for her, at any rate, to attend. He knew Catherine’s day was also slightly saddened by the fact that her own mother had been disinclined to attend the ceremony, but, as he held Catherine’s little gloved hand in his, he felt a rush of love and appreciation for her commitment to him.
Catherine pulled her shawl closer around her neck and shoulders. She shivered again. Even with layers of petticoats under her skirts she still felt the chill of the day. Maybe she should, after all, have worn her coat. The few days of milder weather in May hadn’t lasted and it was still chilly, even for mid-June.
Catherine turned to the Revd David Thomas, who had so kindly agreed to preside over this most sacred of ceremonies.
“Mr Thomas, thank you!” she announced, grasping his hand and shaking it wholeheartedly. No simpering little handshake for this gentleman. She remembered their previous debates and discussions about the place of women in church and society, and she knew he would expect this forwardness from her, even on this day.
Father Mumford was calling from the street. The Stockwell New Chapel was tucked away from the main thoroughfare and he had a cab waiting. William, Catherine, and Emma took their leave of the minister and made their way to the horse drawn vehicle. It was but a short drive back home to Russell Street in Brixton, where, regardless of her unwillingness to attend the actual service, William was sure that Mrs Mumford would be waiting with some light refreshments. Whatever her views on the marriage, and he still wasn’t quite sure of her, she loved her daughter unconditionally and would, he was sure, come around.
William reached out his hand to Catherine. She grasped it and he helped her into the carriage. Whatever the future held now, they were one. The Lord would determine their way, and, whatever happened, they would face it together.

If you fancy reading more, my book is still available all over the place, including from the usual online sites as well as the Lion Hudson website. 

Thanks!

*image The Salvation Army Heritage Centre


Somewhere Over the Rainbow

It was back in 1939 that the world got to know a certain young actress, singer and dancer who would become one of the most famous women in the world.

Judy Garland was born on this day - June 10 - in 1922 and she had already been on the stage for many years, as a child star on vaudeville, before she starred in The Wizard of Oz,  a musical based on a classic children's book called 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' by the author L. Frank Baum.

Baum actually penned 14 Oz stories plus 41 other novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems, and at least 42 scripts - a prolific writer. I've read some of the Oz stories and if you've never done so, its worth it. But as I was investigating him, I discovered that actually some of his works were rather 'prophetic'. He apparently wrote about future inventions like television, augmented reality, laptop computers (in his novel entitled The Master Key), wireless telephones (Tik-Tok of Oz), women in high-risk and action-heavy occupations (Mary Louise in the Country), and much more.

The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz_first_edition_cover'The Wizard of Oz' is, of course, a fairy tale about the adventures of a young farm girl named Dorothy Gale, played by Judy Garland in the movie. She and her pet dog Toto venture into the magical Land of Oz after they are blown away from their home in rural Kansas by a cyclone.  It was first published in  January 1901, and the book has become one of the most loved and best-known stories in American literature. The Library of Congress has even declared it "America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairy tale."  By 1938, when the film was in production, it had already sold a million copies. And it's success has gone from strength to strength, being translated into many different languages.

'The Wizard of Oz' movie - the original - is one of my favourites. As a child I loved it's excitement. Would Dorothy ever 'get home'? And I loved its tension - the Wicked Witch of the East who is killed when Dorothy's house falls on her, and the Wicked Witch of the West who plagues her for much of the story. 

As an adult I watch it and read much more into its narrative twists and turns. Our longing to be safe and 'home' and to appreciate what we have there, without perhaps having to travel far to find happiness and fulfilment and friends. The 'evil' that may be around us and how we need to gain the courage to fight against it.

And, of course, I loved the music in the movie with original score by Herbert Stothart. The film was nominated for  six Academy Awards, including 'Best Picture', but lost out to another brilliant classic 'Gone with the Wind'. But it DID win 'Best Original Score' and 'Best Original Song' for  "Over the Rainbow" - sung at the start of the movie by Judy.

I love the sentiment of this song. We all dream and wish and hope for 'something better' don't we? But as the movie unfolds, we learn that sometimes our dreams and hopes and wishes are all right here, right where we are. We just need to learn to cherish and appreciate what we have.

Today, enjoy this excerpt from the movie and what I think is one of the most perfect songs ever written...sung by one of the most brilliant performers the world has ever seen.

 


A Literary Sensation

Have you ever had a day when you think 'I'd just like to get away from it all'.

That concept intrigues me, the idea of just going somewhere where I would be unknown, not surrounded by the stresses of life, perhaps completely on my own, starting a 'new life'.

Some people DO turn their back on their lives, there's evidence of that, just 'disappearing' from the radar, and sometimes that's down to fear, mental health challenges, or just extreme stress and sadness. I have actually met people who have done that and it is not a choice made lightly but often the result of great trauma. But my main concern if I were to do something so drastic would probably not be for myself but for those I leave behind, my family and loved ones, friends. Causing them pain, not knowing where I was or whether I was dead or alive, would be simply horrid and rather cruel.

This idea of being 'separated' from the world is one which lots of writers have been intrigued by down the centuries, and I'm included in that number.

And it all began really on this day - April 25th - in 1719, with the publication of a book which is reckoned to be the first 'English Novel', and it caused a sensation.

In fact, although it was fictional, readers were convinced it was a true account of a man who was shipwrecked on a desert island. 

Any idea what book I'm talking about?

Robinson Crusoe first editionWell, let me put you out of your misery - it was, of course, 'Robinson Crusoe' by Daniel Defoe.

Defoe was an interesting chap - not just a writer and journalist, but also a trader, pamphleteer and ... a spy! He was often in trouble with the authorities and even served time in prison because he wrote politic tracts, offering some new ideas about how the world should be. And some leaders and intellectuals did actually take notice of some of what he had to offer.

I think I first read an illustrated children's version of 'Robinson Crusoe' when I was quite young, but the full version is really interesting too, if a bit of a read! The central character is 'Robinson Kreutznaer' who spends 28years as a castaway on a remote desert island actually near the coasts of Venezuela and Trinidad. In the story he meets all sorts of adversities but one of the things that captured MY imagination was the way that, having landed on the island, he has to build a whole life for himself, including somewhere to live, learning how to fish and hunt and attempting to survive.

By the way, I'm also a bit of a fan of an old Disney film called 'Swiss Family Robinson' who are also castaway on a remote island after a shipwreck, and have to use their ingenuity to keep body and soul together. This is based on a book of the same name, a novel by the Swiss writer Johann David Wyss, first published in 1812. And I'm also a bit obsessed by a more modern movie featuring Tom Hanks - yes I'm talking about  'Castaway' which has all the same elements and is a little bit more realistic about the actual challenges of being stranded alone on a remote island. 

As I said before, when 'Robinson Crusoe' was first published, many readers believed he was a real person and the book was a true account of his life. But actually the story is thought to be based on the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived for four years on a Pacific island called "Más a Tierra" which is now part of Chile. The place was actually renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.

What's important to note though is that the book is not JUST about Robinson's time on the island. The narrative begins with his life before the shipwreck that leaves him stranded, and after his rescue, we learn about how his life unfolds after nearly three decades on that remote island.

This reminds me that sometimes we fixate on certain aspects of a person's life, without taking into account that perhaps that just reflects a very small proportion of what they have lived, what they have offered the world. We may condemn a person for an action long after they have been well rehabilitated, or after they have turned their back on their previous lives and made more positive choices than negative. We may applaud people for just one or two things they've done in their lives that have been brilliant and that has brought them publicity, and that's not a bad thing, but somehow we forget others who may spend their entire lives quietly 'doing good' for the rest of humanity. In our celebrity culture, there's a lot of that going on, isn't there? Our media puts people on a pedestal for things they have done, often for great wads of money or cynically for publicity purposes, and yet that might not be who they really are. 

Or maybe it is? Who knows?

It's certainly something to think about, isn't it?

Meanwhile, if you've never read 'Robinson Crusoe', may I recommend it? Because, if nothing else, it might inspire us if we DO decide to take ourselves off into the 'Nowhere' and have to fend for ourselves.

Happy Reading! 

 

(*image - 'Robinson Crusoe' first edition title page)

 


The Grapes of Wrath

There are some books that define a generation and I'm thinking about one of those today.

If you've not read 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck, then may I recommend it?

The grapes of wrath book coverI think I first read it when I was a teenager and it made a huge impression on me.

It is a glorious piece of writing which is not a surprise. After all, after it was published on this day - April 14th - in 1939, the book won the National Book Award  and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

But it's also a narrative of a period of history in the USA which I was learning about at school at the time and it really helped me to understand the era and, more importantly, the people who lived through it. And so the study of history became more than just facts and figures. It helped me to understand that history is about the people who live through it. People just like you and me. People with feelings and fears, people with emotions and dreams.

'The Grapes of Wrath' is set in the Great Depression - a severe worldwide economic depression which began in the United States of America and which blighted the 1930s. It all began with the Wall Street Crash in autumn 1929 when stock markets collapsed, people's livelihoods and lives were destroyed. It was the depression that defined the pre-World War II years.

As I said before, when one is studying history, it's easy just to study the facts and to forget the impact of world events on the ordinary lives of individuals. Not just the rich, influential  and famous whose stories might hit the headlines or ultimately be included in the history books, but the lives of ordinary people who make up the great majority of our world.

The family at the centre of 'The Grapes of Wrath'  are the Joads, poor tenant farmers in the state of Oklahoma who are driven out of their home by a series of events. First, drought - the economic crisis coincided with some climatic challenges not all natural ... some of the problems were caused by over use of the land. But, in addition,  the Joads also faced economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures which forced tenant farmers out of work. 

The family epitomises the problems of their generation. They are in a desperate situation, trapped in what was known as the 'Dust Bowl', they decide to become part of an exodus to the 'Promised Land' of California, where they believe they will find work and land and a future.

So the Joads join thousands of other "Okies" heading west. 

However, once they reach California, they find the state oversupplied with men, women and children all seeking employment, workers are exploited and wages are low. The poor face a future where the big corporate farmers collude, smaller farmers suffer from collapsing prices and the future is not much better than that which the family faced at home in Oklahoma. 

Although the Great Depression, and any depression or economic downturn actually, often affects everyone at the start, there's no doubt that it is the poor who ultimately suffer the most. The rich and powerful often find ways of escaping and sadly that's often at the expense of others.

As I was researching this blog, I discovered that Steinbeck not only was aware of this, but actually wrote the book to highlight the issue, and in fact 'The Grapes of Wrath', with it's brilliant writing and his sympathy for migrants and workers, won a huge following among the working class. 

He's reported to have said "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this (the Great Depression) and its effects."

And Steinbeck also famously said, "I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags." 

And THAT is indeed what happened to me when I first read the book - it taught me so much not just about that particular period of history, but also a good deal about how greed and power can corrupt, and how it is the poorest and weakest in our society who invariably suffer the most.

Even though 'The Grapes of Wrath' was written almost a century ago, it certainly feels to me that it has a few messages for this current generation, and this current period of human history.

I haven't read it for a while, but I think I need to read it again.


Life is like a book

Just thinking today about how easy it is to go through life never taking any chances or stepping outside of our 'comfort zone'. 

Just wondering ...

What might I be missing?

 

Life is like a book


A person's a person, no matter how small!

Here are some lines you might recognise if you, like me, have been a reader since you were very little.

"The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. I sat there with Sally. We sat here we two and we said 'How we wish we had something to do.'"

Or how about this? 

Do you like green eggs and ham?
I do not like them,
Sam-I-am.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.”

The cat in the hat bookcoverYes, opening lines from two children's classics - 'The Cat in the Hat' and 'Green Eggs and Ham'

By 'Dr Seuss'.

Admittedly, if you're my age, you're more likely to know the name and the books if you were brought up in the United States of America, but nowadays Dr Seuss is globally popular not just for the books (he wrote and illustrated more than 60 books under that pen name), but also because of the cartoons and films that have brought the author's incredible imagination and creatures and thoughts to life over the decades since he first put pen to paper.Green eggs and ham book cover

'Dr Seuss' was actually a chap called Theodor Seuss 'Ted' Giesel, who was born on this day - Mach 2nd  - in 1904.

He wasn't just an award-winning world renowned children's author and poet, but also an illustrator, animator, filmmaker and political cartoonist. And by the time of his death in September 1991, his many children's books had sold over 600 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages.

Horton hears a who book cover

'Horton Hears a Who' (published in 1955) is one of my favourites - the story in rhyme of Horton the Elephant and how he saves Whoville, a tiny planet based on a small speck of dust, from the evil animals who mocked him. 

The most popular line from that book is "A person's a person, no matter how small" - it's just so profound! Dr Seuss isn't just about fun, there's usually a moral in there somewhere too.

And how about 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas!' ? That one was published in 1957.

All written by Dr Seuss! NOW do you know who I'm talking about?

As was/is the case with many successful authors Ted Giesel's first efforts as a children's writer - a book called 'And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street' - was rejected by many dozens of publishers. But just a few years later, by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, he was beginning to become quite successful. During the war he supported the US war effort and made a name for himself as a filmmaker. One of his war documentaries inspired a film called 'Design for Death' (1947), a study of Japanese culture - and that picked up an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. A couple of years later in 1950, a film called 'Gerald McBoing-Boing', which was based on an original story by Seuss, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Such a brilliantly talented person!

Dr Seuss was also at the forefront of the movement to get children reading. In 1954, a report was published in Life magazine highlighting illiteracy among school children in the USA. It concluded that kids were not learning to read because their books were boring. The director of the education division of publishers Houghton Mifflin, William Ellsworth Spaulding, compiled a list of 348 words that he believed were important for young readers - first-graders - to recognize. Spaulding asked Ted Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words.

The result was 'The Cat in the Hat', which uses 236 of the listed words.

Astonishing!

Seuss' books, his words, have certainly got children reading down the years. Just as JK Rowling got a generation at the end of the 20th century picking up a Harry Potter book, Dr Seuss' creations have inspired millions of young readers. 

Down the years Dr Seuss picked up many an award, and even a special Pulitzer Prize in 1984, for his "contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America's children and their parents".  He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and although he passed away in 1991 he remains one of the highest paid celebrities and authors. 

But I think it's his ability to engage children with words and to encourage them to read, opening up their imaginations to a world of possibilities and to laugh out loud, shed a tear or two and empathise with others, that is his greatest legacy.

So, with that in mind, I'll leave you with a brilliant quote from the amazing man called Dr Seuss.

Cat in the hat reading

 


If this be loving ... then I love

On this Valentine's Day I share with you something very special.

A few years back I wrote a book based on the lives and letters of the couple who founded The Salvation Army, the global church and charity movement.

William Booth met Catherine Mumford in 1851 and they married four years later, in July 1855. Their relationship was developed through letter writing, and that correspondence continued throughout their marriage.

Those letters are held in the British Library in London, and it was sheer pleasure to spend hours pouring over those epistles, deciphering the handwriting. Through the correspondence I got to know these individuals on quite a personal level and I discovered that, although they were obviously very religious and spiritual, they were also complex characters, flawed individuals, and ... I found to my surprise ... very much in love.

That personal even romantic love kept Catherine and William close, and that and their love for God and humanity and their mutual passion for sharing the Christian gospel,  helped them to stay strong often during very difficult times.

I love that in 1872, 17 years into their marriage, William - who was also quite an accomplished poet - was inspired to write this to his wife, the mother of his eight children, and his partner in life, faith and Christian mission.


2016-02-14 15.03.48

By the way, if you fancy reading my book based on the Booth Letters, I will be honoured.

It's called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Lion Hudson 2013)

You can also find it and some of my other books on Amazon and other sites.

You can also check out my Author Central page on Amazon 

If you go to the top of this page and click on 'Cathy Home Page' you will also find my main website and occasional blog. And there's more info on 'Cathy's books'.

Thanks and Happy Valentine's Day