Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: How the Heather Looks

My blogging friend, Catherine, of A Spirited Mind, brought this book to my attention. I was intrigued by the content of the book, in addition to the sad story Catherine provided of the author's life after this glorious experience of a family trip to England to research and seek out the background locations for their favorite works of children's literature. (To discover more about the author's difficult life read Catherine's post or Bodger's own book about her life, The Crack in the Teacup. Even the Amazon listing of her book tells a good deal about her sad, but inspiring, story.)

The very title of this book beckons me in: How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children's Books. Who wouldn't love taking their children on a trip with the express intent of finding the magical places from their beloved storybooks? It would be a dream come true for me to take my children on such a trip. Then again, it would be a dream come true if my children expressed the magical awe for books which the author and her children share. Sadly, only one of my sons has a voracious appetite for books, but even he doesn't evidence the command of literature which Bodger's 8 year old son seems to have.

I must say, I felt a bit sad that most of the books mentioned were ones I was familiar with but had never actually read (or if, perhaps, my parents did read them to me in my early years, they have since vanished from my brain). It would have been so much more meaningful if I had more familiarity with the children's literature she mentions. I enjoyed reading about their excursions and their desperate attempts to find the sources of these timeless tales. Indeed, I was amazed at the author's ability to recall the events with such clarity (since she was writing well after the fact and including bits of information she had gleaned after their trip). It was an easy read and certainly engrossing. A perfect book for anyone who loves England and loves children's books.

For me, I found myself thinking of the wonderful tour I was able to experience with the Wheaton-in-England program. Not only did I have the company of many other Anglophiles and bibliophiles like myself, but I also had the opportunity to immerse myself in the literature while coming in contact with the specific locations. We visited Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon, the Bronte's Haworth moors, Dickens' locations in London and Rochester, King Arthur's environs of Winchester Castle and Glastonbury's Tor, Milton's Cottage in Chalfont St. Giles, Wordsworth's Lake District and C.S. Lewis' house and grave.  It was a grand opportunity and I feel especially blessed.

I have read several books recently which would inspire such a trip: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (the area of Sussex, England), Maeve Binchy's books set in Ireland, and especially the detailed journey in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (what fun a walking tour like that would be). The other day, I saw a Groupon for an eight-day trip to London, Paris, and Rome. Oh how I wish I could convince my husband to take that trip with me to celebrate our upcoming 25th anniversary. It would even count as research for a follow-up book to one of my young adult novels. Alas, he's not a bit interested in travel (or in spending the money) and I'm a bit hesitant to tackle it on my own. For now, I'll have to settle for books which take me on journeys like this, through the lands of endearing fiction.

In reading several other blog reviews of this book, I chanced upon a comment which referenced a similar book to this one, Christina Hardyment's The Canary-Coloured Cart: One Family's Search for Storybook Europe. At Hardyment's website, you can see she has written many books of this flavor. Another one which sounds interesting to me, is her book titled On the Writer's Trail. Clearly, I have further books to look into for my vicarious journeys.

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