Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Colorful Cassons (& Conroys)

Click on Paint Chart to Enlarge
Enjoy Reading Humorous Captions!*

A few summers ago, when my nephew Daniel came to visit me In West Lafayette, we walked over to Chauncey Village so that he could have the fun of shopping at VON'S, the best bookstore for miles around. Daniel, a specialist in adolescent lit, checked out all the titles and settled on a book to leave behind for me to read after he returned home. He was sure that I would love it, and he was right!

That book, Saffy's Angel (2001) is the first in a series of five novels, and after just one, I was hooked! It was fun and fast (always a plus with me, the slowest reader under the sun), reminiscent of The Saturdays, Understood Betsy, and The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler -- all rolled into one.

Written by British author, Hilary McKay, the Casson Books are a great teen reading series (let's say PG 13, as there is a substantial amount of adult conflict). The Casson parents are eccentric artists, who have named all their children after colors: the girls -- Cadmium, Saffron (that's Saffy), Rose, and their brother Indigo.

The novel opens and closes with a reference to the all - important paint chart on the wall of their chaotic kitchen: "Each little square had the name of the color underneath. To the Casson children those names were as familiar as nursery rhymes. Other families had lullabies, but the Cassons had fallen asleep to lists of colors" (1, Saffy's Angel).

In Saffy's Angel, each of the children is up to something. Saffy is searching for the meaning of her name and for the angel that is her inheritance, Caddy is learning to drive, and Indigo is learning to be brave. A few months ago, I wrote a Quotidian blog post about Indigo's quest for courage: "Indigo thought about it, and it seemed to him that he had been born afraid of almost everything. He made a list. He wrote down on a piece of paper all the things that frightened him most, and he set about to cure himself" (24, Saffy's Angel).

Each successive novel features one particular sibling, though we learn about all of them in every book: Indigo's Star (2003), Permanent Rose (2005), and Caddy Ever After (2006). Naturally, each child has a special talent, but it's Rose who seems to have inherited her parents' artistic tendencies:
"By now the morning was bright with heat. Rose, who saw the world in terms of pictures, thought that if she had wanted to paint it, she would need the sort of colors they were expected to use at school. Flat yellows and oranges, and hopeless, unshining greens. She squinted up to the sun as if to ask what it was thinking of to allow such unpleasantness. The sun glared back down at her like an overbearing adult who had finished with pandering to the likes of Rose." ~ from Permanent Rose (75)
As the youngest, Rose requires a bit more time to grow up. Thus, to the great delight of her readers, McKay has written one more novel on Rose's behalf: Forever Rose (2007). I can say for sure that Daniel and I would be happy if this series just went on and on and on . . .

Follow - Ups
Summer 2014: latest installment Caddy's World
Spring 2015: and now there's Rose's Blog

No doubt about it, McKay knows how to create a fun, lovable family, with plenty of sibling rivalry to go around, but also great affection. Before the Cassons, there were the Conroys, a family of four sisters -- Ruth, Naomi, Rachel, and Phoebe -- who call themselves The Exiles. In this trilogy -- The Exiles (1991), The Exiles at Home (1992), and The Exiles in Love (1996) -- McKay has recreated Little Women in present day England. Very clever and well done; every parallel is there!

A few favorite thoughts about thinking:
"Only people with no mental resources get bored."
~ from The Exiles in Love (122)

"Rachel's diary . . . In it every meal she had eaten that summer had been carefully recorded. Writing accounts of mere events, she had soon decided, was a waste of time and not at all necessary. For example, she could look at the previous Sunday's entry: 'Ordinary breakfast, roast chicken, peas, pots, runny trifle pudding, egg sandwiches, chocolate cake, ginger cookies,' and the whole day's happenings would immediately spring to mind and insert themselves neatly between the appropriate meals. Rachel thought that everyone's brain worked this way."
~ from The Exiles (148, 201)

Even better than Rachel's "meticulous record of . . . eating" (which I think just might work for me as a method of recollection!) is the girls' description of their grandmother's way of thinking: " . . . she doesn't forget things. She notices everything and it goes into her head and makes patterns. Or something. So the more she notices, the more she knows."
~ from The Exiles at Home (102)

*The humorously captioned color chart is a trade postcard,
advertising the BBC Good Homes Show 2002,
held at the National Exhibition Center
in Birmingham, England, 3 - 6 May 2002.

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