Friday, February 19, 2010

Childhood Reading Nostalgia

I'm being utterly decadent today. Normally, I get up and get dressed before heading to my desk, but I'm still sitting around in my pajamas. I think I'm most of the seven dwarves today. I've got Sneezy, Sleepy and Dopey, and it's possible that if I have to deal with people I'll be Grumpy. But I will eventually have to put on real clothes because I have errands to run. I keep telling myself that I can buy something fun at Target if I'm good, but that isn't helping with the hibernation instinct.

I may have to stop using Star Wars for writing examples. Apparently, I gave Mom nightmares the other day about Ewan McGregor trying to perform Moulin Rouge in the Star Wars cantina and getting himself beat up.

Reading Blackout, the new Connie Willis book about WWII in England, seems to have stirred some kind of nostalgia for me. That book pretty much pushed all my buttons, as she covered the aspects of the war I find most fascinating. We in the US are so distant and remote from the wars we're fighting now, but the British in WWII were right in the midst of it. They were caught in a war zone during the Blitz (and subsequent bombing runs). Civilians and their personal boats saved the day and the war at Dunkirk. And they all made enormous sacrifices, like sending their children away to safety.

I've been fascinated by the evacuation of the children since I was a kid -- probably because of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, where the kids found themselves evacuated to a small town to live with a trainee witch. That was one of those topics I was always looking for novels about, and now I will get sucked into any documentary or movie about it. I try to imagine what it would be like to get sent to live with strangers far from home, and the war lasted long enough that some of the younger children were closer to their host families than they were to their real ones. On the other hand, there were plenty of stories of children used as servants or horribly abused by their host families. Now that I'm more of a parent age, I think about what it would be like to have to take in some random kid. Though I doubt I'd be in a zone where evacuees would be sent, as I live far too close to a major airport (which means that if there's ever an ongoing bombing campaign against this country, I will likely be moving in with my parents in the middle of nowhere). And can you imagine the bureaucracy and the legal complications in trying to carry out something like the evacuation these days?

After reading Blackout, I dug out a book I first read in sixth grade, Searching for Shona by Margaret J. Anderson. Marjorie and Shona are two eleven-year-old orphan girls who meet in an Edinburgh park. Marjorie's parents died in a boating accident and she now lives with her wealthy (and usually absent) uncle and his household staff. Shona lives in an orphanage and doesn't know anything about her parents other than the name of the town she thinks her mother was from and that she has a painting of an old house that's the only thing she inherited from her parents. When the war starts, Marjorie is to be sent to live with cousins in Canada, but she's terrified at the thought of being on a boat going across an ocean. On her way out of town, she runs into Shona at the train station, where Shona and the other orphans are being evacuated to the country, and Marjorie impulsively suggests they switch places. Shona looks a lot like her passport photo, and she's never met these cousins. The war won't last too long, they're sure, and they can meet up again in the park to switch back. But then Marjorie finds herself evacuated to the town Shona thought her mother was from, where there's an old house like the one in the painting. She sets out to solve the mystery of Shona's past so she can share it after the war. But the war keeps going on and on, and she's not entirely sure she wants to go back to her old identity ...

I can see that even in sixth grade I was already into that worst thing/best thing theme because that impulsive decision to take the place of a penniless orphan and leave behind a life of privilege ends up being the best thing to ever happen to the main character. She's able to find a path in life she might never have pursued otherwise, and she finds a surrogate family in the twin spinsters who take her in as an evacuee and in the younger girl housed with her. It doesn't seem to still be in print (I got it in a school book order back in the Dark Ages), but I think this is a book that a pre-teen who's interested in history might enjoy if you can find it in a library. My library doesn't have it, but it looks like this author also wrote some fantasy books that my library does have, so I'll have to look into those.

It's fun revisiting something I enjoyed as a child and finding that I still enjoy it. In fact, I may have enjoyed it more because I know more now and got a lot of references that may have gone straight over my head when I was a kid. For instance, the younger girl who becomes like a kid sister clearly is dyslexic, but since I'd never heard of such a thing when I was eleven (it wasn't talked about then), I didn't catch that, but this time, I got it. I also know and understand more about the war and am more able to see things from the adults' perspective.

Oh, and since I looked it up, the paperback version of Blackout is scheduled for September 14, and All Clear, the conclusion, is scheduled for October 19, so that's good timing to re-read the first part before getting my hands on part 2 somehow.

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