Thursday, June 24, 2010


SSR (Sustained Silent Reading)
We always loved this acronym for the quiet time / reading period
at Ben & Sam's grade school.

It's always nice to reread an old favorite, especially on a summer afternoon like today, when I pulled out The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes, the story of two brave creative girls whose drawings can shape reality (in manner of Harold and the Purple Crayon). I first read this book back in 2nd or 3rd grade and have never been without a copy, though I don't recall the last time I actually sat down and reread it from front to back (it doesn't take long).

A few memorable features have stuck with me over the years:

1. the butterfly poem
(currently featured on my Fortnightly Literary Blog):

"Non. That means no.
Oui. That means yes.
And papillion. That means butterfly.
Oui, non, Papillon -- a very pretty rhyme"

2. the way Amy, who loves written correspondence, signs all of her letters: "I love you and you love me, Amy"

3. the Spelling Bee: an amazingly literate bumblebee named Malachi who can communicate by spelling aloud (often in puns; always in all - caps). E.g., BEEHOLD! BEEGIN! BEE STILL!

And here's one more clever little detail that seems the perfect answer to a question that came up last summer. In Chapter One, entitled "Old Witch, Banished," the girls find it necessary to discipline the bad witch with a banishment that quickly becomes a banquishment: "I banquished her," said Amy proudly. Sometimes Amy joined two words together, creating one new word. Here, banish and vanquish had become "banquish" . . . I banquished her to the top of the glass hill to learn to be good" (17, 136).

Funny, I wasn't even thinking of this precedent (see "Romeo is Banish'd", August 2009) when my younger son asked me, "Mom, can you banquish? I told him that you can vanish and vanquish; and you can banish, but you can't really banquish, though it certainly sounds like something one should be able to do. How refreshing to be reminded that Amy and Clarissa have been banquishing ever since way back when!

I encountered a similar conundrum (astoundished / astonded / astonished / astounded) in The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart (192), a book I picked up only because Benedict is the name of my other son (older brother to the banquished Sam). The Benedict Society consists of four quirky little geniuses (Constance Contraire, Kate Wetherall, Reynard Muldoon, and George "Sticky" Washington) out to save the brave new world, kind of like Edward Gory's Gashlycrumb Tinies, except upbeat and resourceful instead of doomed.

A new book for me this month was E. L. Konigsburg's Up From Jericho Tel, featuring a couple of quick-witted, enterprising friends, Jeanmarie and Malcolm. Like the Benedict Society kids, these two have a mission for improving the planet; and like Amy and Clarissa, they are delightfully verbally oriented. I'm also delighted that their secret password is Papillon! -- providing yet another literary connection and coincidence for Butterfly Collection!

"Jericho Tel" is their Pet Cemetery, and for each deceased animal, they create a weathergram: "a poem of ten words or less that a person writes on plain brown paper and hangs on a tree. . . . The message is rubbed by the wind, faded by the sun, washed by the rain and becomes part of the world." For example, in honor of a deceased blue jay: "May your soul have flown to heaven before you sank to earth" and for a stricken luna moth: "Fly. Fluttter. Falter. Fall" (9 - 10, 13).

For more Konigsburg, see my previous post Summer Make Believe, July 2009.

Favorite passage from The Mysterious Benedict Society: "There was much to remember about that time, and much to tell, but the moon in its nightly travels would dwindle, disappear, and fatten again before their stories were entirely told. There was too much to do, too little time for storytelling" (473; and Harvest Moon, September 2009).