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Recent Reading: The Search for Delicious, by Natalie Babbitt

We liked Tuck Everlasting so much that we decided to get another book by Natalie Babbitt. We weren’t disappointed.

-Natalie Babbitt, The Search for Delicious (1969)

The Search for Delicious is a fairy tale of sorts. It involves an attempt at defining the word ‘delicious.’ Each member of the kingdom has his or her own opinion. Delicious is an apple; delicious is fried fish, etc. Needless to say, no one can agree on a way to describe what delicious is. This leads to a massive polling of the kingdom, carried out by the main character, a young man/boy named Vaungaylen.

There is  a wicked villain in the story who attempts a massive coup. There are dwarfs and mermaids. It’s a great fairy story. But the argument over what is delicious is the central running theme. Arguments break out everywhere the question is asked, until they surprisingly find something that everyone in the kingdom can agree is delicious. Many of the reviews of the book I’ve read emphasize the attention on diversity and disagreement, and how everyone can ‘find a way to get along in the end.’ But I don’t really think that’s the point at all. They really do agree in the end. There really is something delicious that all can agree on, despite their differing tastes. I won’t spoil the story, but I’ll say this: the thing they all agree is delicious is something that they do not appreciate until it is almost taken away.

This is a beautiful children’s story. It’s funny, it’s serious, and it tackles the interesting issue of objectivity and subjectivity, and how there is something that is objectively delicious, but we often fail to realize it because of our subjective situations. This one goes onto my recommended reading for children list.

Recent Reading: The Magic City, by Edith Nesbit

I have yet to read anything by Edith Nesbit that I didn’t enjoy. Her children’s books tend to be a bit long and plodding at times for the modern reader suffering from distractions and attention deficits, but that is part of what makes them all the more worthwhile. They are entertaining, yet countercultural reading for the modern child. At times her writing smacks of well-to-do Victorian England. But hey, that’s the world in which she lived. Not everyone has ponies and large gardens, but that shouldn’t cause us to despise her stories.

Her dialogue is always a pleasure, and this book has a lot of it. Her moral vision is helpful, and this book has plenty of that as well. This is not a review, and I will not spoil anything; I will simply give my main takeaways from the story.

The Magic City is imaginatively enlivening. The main character, Philip, is an imaginative builder, as most children are. What child in the presence of sand would not build a sandcastle? The difference is that Philip’s toy building projects come to life. His play castles become real castles in an alternate world.

Philip is orphaned and lives with his older sister. The main story revolves around Philip’s struggles as his older sister gets married. He will no longer be the main focus of her life. This causes his struggles. His new stepsister, Lucy, comes into play and has a sanctifying influence on Philip – drawing his hatred at first, but ultimately winning his love and making him a better person through her own. Chivalry comes to life in a new context with these two brave children, as they seek, despite the friction of being new step-siblings, to deliver Philip’s magic city from the hands of a Destroyer.

The love and devotion of children, in the midst of heartbreak and confusion, is the great takeaway of the story. It provides an imaginative glimpse into how bravery, humility, sacrifice, and selfless love (witnessed and practiced) can change even, or especially, a child. In addition to that, the lively imaginative feel of the book is inspiring for those who aspire to greater creativity. I heartily recommend the book to families with young children. My eight-year-old daughter enjoyed it tremendously, and I did as well.

The book is available in print or FREE for Kindle HERE. You can read an overview HERE. You can read a wonderful introduction to her life and writing HERE.

Recent Reading: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

I am not going to write anything in depth or profound here, just a couple of takeaways.

First, my kids love this book. My wife has read it to them before, but this is my first time reading it. Second, the movie was more different from the book than I imagined possible. Third, I’m struck mostly in the book by how Baum portrays the humility of some of the main characters.

The Wizard himself is far from humble. He is a liar, a huckster, a shyster, and a scam artist. Yet the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Lion (and Dorothy) all trust him in spite of the fact that they know this. Despite the amount of wrong that he inflicts on them, and to Dorothy most of all, they forgive him. And not only do they forgive him, they still look to him as though he had something genuine to offer them.

And while the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Lion see nothing but the best in the Wizard despite his flaws, they see nothing but the worst in themselves. The Scarecrow is perhaps the brain of the group, yet he insists that he is brainless and hopeless. The Tin Woodsman is loving and merciful and kind, and a persistent crier, yet he yearns for a heart. And the Cowardly Lion is the bravest of any character in the story, all without the courage that he covets. They see the best in others, and the worst in themselves. They are poor in spirit, which makes them rich characters and eager to gain what others can give.

While it is certainly not wrong to call a con-man a con-man, we could still learn some lessons from our friends here, such as In humility count others as more significant than yourselves, and Remove the 2 x 4 out of your own eye before you try to take the toothpick out of someone else’s. If you do so, you will be a very endearing character.

Beach Monkey (1)

Uno: A Monkey Pines

Marco the monkey lived deep in the jungles of South America. If this were a science book I would need to explain that Marco was a Howler Monkey, a species of New World monkeys. I could spend pages and pages telling you all about the different types of New World monkeys. But, though I just told you a couple of facts, this is not a science book. This is a story, so let’s get on with it.

Marco was like most Howler Monkeys. He liked to climb trees and slowly skip (if you could call it that) across the top branches from one tree to another. He liked to lounge around in the treetops and eat nuts and leaves.

Most monkeys would be perfectly content with such a life. Marco was free. He could climb any tree that he liked. He could eat any food that he liked. The weather suited him just fine. And he had plenty of friends and family to keep him company.

But, from as far back as Marco could remember, he had been a piner. What is a piner? It doesn’t mean that he liked pine trees. There were no pines in Marco’s jungle. It means that he was a daydreamer. Marco liked to climb up to the top of trees and look out over the forest while he filled his mind, or let his mind drift away, with dreams. He pined.

What did Marco dream of? What did he pine about? He didn’t dream of bananas, or getting married, or finding the perfect tree.

Years ago, when Marco was a young monkey, he met an older monkey called a Muriqui. Muriquis are pretty common in South America, but little Marco had never met one. He had heard of them, but until this point he wasn’t even sure that they really existed. They were known to be very wise (they were called sages, but Marco didn’t really know what that meant). So, naturally, he was quite excited to meet this monkey.

The Muriqui’s name was Gazer. And he drew quite a crowd among the Howlers, especially the young Howlers. They would gather around him and listen to his amazing stories – stories of lands that very few monkeys had ever visited.

But one particular story caught Marco’s attention in a major way. Gazer explained that there was a thing called ‘the ocean.’ This ocean was somewhat like the rivers that the Howlers had seen many times, but it was bigger. The ocean was like the king of all rivers. It was big and blue, but that was just the beginning. All of the fish in the world longed to live in the open waters of the ocean. The sun, Gazer said, rises and sets in the ocean.

Marco had always wondered where the sun came from, and where it went during the night. Gazer explained that every night the ocean swallows the sun, causing it, and all the sky around it, to turn red like blood or pink like a flower. And every morning the ocean, having become warm from holding the sun overnight, would release the sun to come out and warm the rest of the world.

Gazer also told the little monkeys that the ocean attracted a thing called sand. No one ever saw sand in the jungle. Sand lives in dry lands, like deserts (another thing Marco had never heard of). But the sand loved the water, and so it was always trying to get to the ocean, where there was an abundant supply.

Gazer said that the ocean was the source of all life. Everything needs water to live, and all of that water came from the ocean. Rivers were just little streams pushing forward, trying to make it to the ocean so that they could blend with the great Water.

Gazer was a traveling sage (though Marco still didn’t know what that meant), and so he didn’t stay around for too long. Like a dream, he was gone. But Marco, though he was quite young when he met Gazer, never forgot him, or his stories – especially his stories about the great Water known as the ocean.

And so, there sits Marco, perched in the top of a tree like a great bird, and he is daydreaming. What is he dreaming about? He is pining away for the ocean. He couldn’t even imagine precisely what the ocean looked like. What did a real wave look like? How big is this giant mass of water? In some ways, he wasn’t even sure that the ocean existed, but he really wanted to find out. He certainly wanted to believe in the ocean. Yet he could never be quite sure. Unless…

If only Marco could travel to the ocean. If only he could stand on the sand and watch the sun be swallowed up by the great Water. If only he could, like the sand, take a journey to the Water’s edge. Then he would know. Then he wouldn’t have to dream anymore. Then, maybe, the other monkeys would stop calling him names –

Names like Beach Monkey.

©Tides and Turning, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Introducing Beach Monkey

We have been celebrating my daughter’s birthday for the better part of a week (who says it can’t be birthweek instead of birthday?). My in-laws gave her a set of Boom-Its. What are Boom-Its? you ask. Playing Boom-It is pretty much like playing badminton, except the paddles, or whatever you call them, make very loud noises when you strike the birdie (or, again, whatever you call it).

As children will do, my daughter was randomly hitting things with said paddles. She began to hit balloons at one point (birthday balloons of course). And as she did so, for reasons which I still don’t fully understand, she began to repeatedly say the phrase, ‘Beach Monkey.’ She said it with enthusiasm: ‘Beach Monkey, Beach Monkey, Beach Monkey!’

As we say in the south, I got very tickled at this. I asked her why she said it. No explanation. She just said it. I liked it. I told her it sounded like the name of a book and that I would therefore write her a story about Beach Monkey.

I have written stories for my daughters before, and I have never let anyone other than my daughters read them. But this time I thought, ‘hey, why not make it public?’ I’m still in the process of writing it so it may take some time. And please remember that I’m writing this story for a 4-year-old!

Recent Reading: Toads and Diamonds

Toads and Diamonds is a fairy story found in Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book. I always enjoy reading such stories with my children, and I’ve written about them quite a few times on the blog (see the On Fairy Stories section at the top of the page). Fairy tales are interesting on a number of levels. They are interesting because of the sheer enchantment for starters. They allow you to enter into imaginary worlds full of magic. They are also interesting because you rarely find one without finding a number of moral lessons put in terms that capture the imagination.

C.S. Lewis made the point on more than one occasion that the primary function of the well-ordered imagination is to be found in seeking after truth. One aspect of that truth is virtue. And so it is fitting that examples of, and exhortations to, virtue should be put in the form of imaginative stories.

I say all that because this is certainly a story with one such lesson. The basic plot is that the ‘fair maiden’ of the story (I’ll let you read it yourself to fill in the details) is given a gift by a fairy that causes flowers and jewels to spring from her mouth each time she speaks. Conversely, the main character’s wicked sister is cursed by the fairy so that toads and snakes issue with speech.

Our diamond girl is kind and loving and always speaks accordingly. Our toad girl is mean and cruel, and the toads and snakes correspond to her speech.

As I read this with my daughter, of course, the obvious question to ask was, ‘So, what about you – diamonds or toads?’ In some sense we are all speaking one or the other. And most of us, more likely all of us, are a mixture of both. We speak diamonds and flowers at times, and toads and snakes at others:

  • James 3:7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

It ought not to be so, and the gospel of Jesus Christ gives us the resources to change our speech. Jesus speaks to us kind words of grace. He speaks of blessing, of life, of love. He dies for the sins of our speech, and provides his Spirit in order to make new creatures, with new ways of speaking:

  • Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

If you constantly hear grace, it should constantly lead you to speak grace. If you are being built up by the gospel, then you should build others up. This is not simply a morality issue, it is an issue regarding a new creation. The old way of speaking has died, the new way of speaking has come.

And a fitting analogy for examining yourself might be, ‘am I speaking flowers and diamonds, or toads and snakes?’ If nothing else, it is certainly an imaginative way of putting the issue before children: ‘So, what you just said, was that a diamond or a toad?’

You can read the story HERE.