Truth in fiction

One of my favorite types of literature is “juvenile literature,” that which is intended for older children.  I read some of my favorite books as a child, and Madeleine L’Engle still remains on my favorite list, not just because I enjoy fantasy, but because of the truth and beauty that can be found between those pages.  Why?  I think L’Engle explained this well in her autobiographical A Circle of Quiet: “lf it’s not good enough for adults, it’s not good enough for children.  If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grownup, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books.  And words.”


In July, my older brother introduced me to a new author to add to my “favorite” list.  I am glad that I hadn’t read Andrew Peterson’s work before July, as the first book of The Wingfeather Saga left me wanting more, and I have been able to experience book two, North! Or Be Eaten less than two months after the first.  Though these are considered juvenile literature, I found beautiful truth and imagery within.  And one truth within was a truth that is missing from too many of the books that crowd our shelves: our Maker has a plan for our lives.  On page 143 of this work, a bookseller states this well.  “Whether crushed or sheltered by the Maker’s hand, ‘tis beneath it we go, from breath to death.”  (warning: if you have not yet read these books, the review below does contain spoilers of the first one.  Not the second, though… how fair would that be?  It would be like a certain older brother of mine who used to give away the ending of a book as I was starting it.  Not nice.)

Lest this story sound simple, allow me to explain.  Here is a little synopsis of the book:

Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby thought they were normal children with normal lives and a normal past. But now they know they’re really the Lost Jewels of Anniera, heirs to a legendary kingdom across the sea, and suddenly everyone wants to kill them.

Their escape brings readers to the very brink of Fingap Falls, over the Stony Mountains, and across the Ice Prairies, while villains galore try to stop the Igibys permanently. Fearsome toothy cows and horned hounds return, along with new dangers: a mad man running a fork factory, a den of rockroaches, and majestic talking sea dragons.

Finding they’re royalty, as wonderful as this may sound, did bring on responsibility, not all of it welcome.  12-year-old Janner, the oldest of the Igiby children, faced this question as they started their escape.  “Is it worth it? he asked himself.  Was it worth his losing his own life in order to learn the truth about who he was and who he was becoming?  Yes.” (p 79)  Among other things, this book was the story of Janner and his very unusual coming of age.

In the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, the Igiby children were told their roles, intended since birth.  Janner, the throne warden, was not to be king – that was his younger brother Tink.  No, Janner’s role was to act as protector of the king, to keep him safe. Reading how Janner acted as caregiver to an unwilling brother and how the weakest of the three children, their young sister who needed a crutch to walk, overcame the largest of their physical obstacles … these aspects spoke to me personally, falling into the “Invisible Issues” theme of this blog.  And yes, I needed a few tissues along the way.

Andrew Peterson’s storytelling was gripping, his style engaging, and his characters memorable.  The story is one of love, redemption, family, responsibility, honor, and so much more.  And you know what?  I think Madeleine L’Engle would have liked it.

The power of a picture

or milk, turtles and impressions

When I visit a scenic location or attend an event, I’m not one who always remembers the details. The name of a person or place may not immediately come to mind, but images certainly stick. I was reading a book last month, Less Clutter, Less Noise by Kem Meyer, and she had a wonderful example of the power of a picture.

milk ring turtleAs she was discussing the impact an image can have, Kem shared a photograph she had seen several years ago, a picture of a sea turtle that had been caught in a plastic ring from a milk jug as a hatchling. The little turtle had grown up with the plastic ring around its middle, and the adult turtle was malformed, shaped more like a large apple core. When Kem first saw this image, the point had been that we could do something simple to keep this from happening, simple as clipping the little plastic ring before discarding it.

The purpose behind sharing this image in the book was not necessarily environmental, but it was to make a point: a well-placed image can make quite an impression. In the same way, the way that we are can say so much more than any words. I know, for instance, that people see the care and love shown to me by my husband, as I face barriers brought on by disability, and we’ve had a number of people approach us with comments and questions – even for advice (?!). The milk-ring turtle speaks to us due to the way she appears, and I think we each speak to those around us in the same way.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words; sometimes, I think an image can speak volumes beyond this proverbial sum. As for our house, we have now formed a new habit: once we open a new carton of milk, the ring is clipped. Every time. And I hope this helps us remember that the impressions we give to others can be more valuable than we may realize.

Anne’s anniversary – a year later

Exactly one year ago today, I got to visit Green Gables, Prince Edward Island. We went with a group of more than 30 on Lightrider, a double-decker bus, and what an experience this was! I have to include a couple of photos, of course, and I will also follow with a post about Anne from my former blog. There is a lot I can learn from the life of fictional Anne and her very real author, Lucy Maud Montgomery.


The entry below was first published on January 10, 2008.

100 years later, and still sparkling

Prince Edward Island will host centennial celebrations this year for Anne‘s publication. I’m not sure why, but the authors I’ve grown to love are all people with “invisible issues” of their own. As I wrote a few months ago, Madeleine L’Engle’s most well-known and awarded book, A Wrinkle in Time, was rejected by publishers eight times before it was put aside to collect dust (until it was resurrected by another interested publisher). It is hard to believe that one of the most celebrated and well-known books of a century ago had a similar history. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was handwritten then typed on her “old second-hand typewriter that never makes the capitals plain and won’t print ‘w’ at all” (from volume 1 of Montgomery’s selected journals). Ms. Montgomery had several short stories and poems published before that time, but this was her first full-length book, so Maud, as she went by, decided the manuscript must not be worthwhile. And she put it aside.

What would lead her to do this? And why was such a bright young lady using a secondhand typewriter with some letters that wouldn’t work? Despite the cheery disposition of many of her characters, Maud did not live a charmed life by any means. Much like her beloved character, her mother died when Maud was very young. Unlike Anne, Maud did have a father still living, a father who went across the country to make a new life and later settle in Saskatchewan. Lucy Maud stayed on Prince Edward Island, where she lived with her mother’s parents, her Grandma Lucy and Grandfather Alexander Macneill. She lived near and grew to love her cousins, one of the families living at a house called “Green Gables,” but L. M. Montgomery is described on page 17 of Annotated Anne of Green Gables as fine physically, but “emotionally starved.” And a century ago, Maud’s relatives’ views were not unusual. She was a female, her parents weren’t here, and a girl – or young lady – was not expected to need, accomplish or become much of anything. So it was that her grandfather, who passed away when Maud was in her early 20’s, left nothing in his will to his wife or granddaughter, but to the males of the family. Then ten years later, in 1908, something happened that would have surprised her grandfather: her first book was published. In fact, Anne of Green Gables was so popular that it went through thirty-two printings in the first five years. Unlike many other books, it has not gone out of print after a hundred years.

The character Anne herself lived the first part of her life filled with issues that weren’t even “invisible.” Orphaned as an infant, Anne spent her growing years either in an orphanage or in homes as a servant of sorts. She went to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert when the brother and sister had sent for a boy orphan, one who could help on the farm. Then came Anne. She wasn’t a boy, and thus wasn’t really wanted, much like Maud felt through her growing years. It became apparent, though, that Anne, much like her author, had much to offer the world. Some of those special gifts were ones she had cultivated during life’s struggles.

So a hundred years have passed… and who would have thought that little dreamer Maud would bring to the printed page one of literature’s most beloved heroines? Anne is known and loved in Canada, America, and in nations around the world. If you go to Prince Edward Island, you’ll likely see as many tourists from Japan as America. This book has been translated into 36 languages, and people are just as enthusiastic about is as they were when it was first published, if not more so. In fact, one exciting thing about 2008 is that there will be special celebrations this summer, marking the centennial of Anne’s publication. (In fact, a bus tour with Lightrider will embark to PEI for eight days in June. There are a few spaces left, and I can get information for you if you’re interested!)

As she read reviews of her work in 1908, Maud wrote, as can be seen in her first volume of published journals, “…Thank God, I can keep the shadows of my life out of my work. I would not wish to darken any other life—I want instead to be a messenger of optimism….” Though her life held further shadows, I am thankful that Lucy Maud Montgomery was able to rise above those to share this message of optimism. Both through her life and her writing, Lucy Maud Montgomery left a sparkle in this world that is well worth celebrating!


So we did return from my “dream trip” to PEI, and it is fun to reflect back on that special time we had. It was neat to see Maud’s community, to see the legacy that remains in the spirit of the island. I will share other thoughts in days to come – and if you have any questions about our trip, I will warn you that once I start sharing about something dear to my heart, it can be hard to put on the brakes. 😉