Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Sunday Salon - Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson


Good Sunday, everyone! I'm happy to report that I've finally finished another book. 2009 is off to a slow start, but at least the quality has been good so far even if my numbers are dreadful.

This semester I'm taking a course for my library degree called History of Youth Services. The class focuses largely on issues of history and ethnography, and less than a week in I'm already having a great time. Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson, is a required read for the course, and I could not be happier about it! I've long been aware of Paterson's better known books, Jacob Have I Loved and Bridge to Terabithia. Unfortunately, I've never taken the plunge and picked them up, though after Lyddie, I'm sure I will.

In 1843, Lydia Worthen is essentially the mother to her family: her mentally unstable mother, her hardworking brother, and her younger sisters. They owe debts on their farm, and it seems as if their father will never return. As a result, Lyddie's mother hires her out as a housemaid and her brother Charles goes to a local miller. Before too long, Lyddie finds herself in a precarious situation--fired from her position as housemaid and off to Lowell, Massachusetts to work long hours in a dirty, dangerous textile factory. While the wages and her endless work ethic allow her to save money toward the farm debt, the danger of disease, injury, exhaustion, and greed hover around every corner. The bright spot in all of the dark are Lyddie's new friends, her newfound ability to read, and her drive to provide for her family and eventually return to them.

It's been a really long time since I've read any historical fiction, especially historical fiction for children, and I was delighted to visit this particular time period, as I found the setting, the characters, and information about the mill conditions and rising movement for fair work and wages really interesting and involving. Lyddie is a great character--strong, hard-headed, intelligent, and resourceful. She's not without her faults, certainly, and that makes her all the more memorable. There are more than a few times when all the money she's saving goes to her head and she loses sight of her ultimate purpose.

Paterson's writing is elegant. Truly beautiful. One of my favorite passages comes shortly after Lyddie's first days in the Lowell mills. One of her roommates reads Oliver Twist aloud to her, and she becomes completely involved in the tale.

Tonight after supper, Betsy would read to her again. She was, of course, afraid for Oliver, who was all mixed up in her mind with Charlie. But there was a delicious anticipation, like molded sugar on her tongue. She had to know what would happen to him, how his story would unfold. [...] She didn't quite know how to explain to anyone, that is wasn't so much that she had gotten used to the mill, but she had found a way to escape its grasp. The pasted sheets of poetry or Scripture in the window frames, the geraniums on the sill, those must be some other girl's way, she decided. But hers was a story.
As a result of her new obsession, she begins to copy passages out of the book and paste them to her loom to study as she works through the long hours in the mill. Books keep her company and allow her to escape the drudgery of her everyday life.
Lyddie was a sweeping kind of story that kept me feeling a little anxious and on edge the whole time I was reading it, and it's been far too long since I've felt that way about a book! I have a feeling another one of Paterson's novels might fall into my library bag the next time I go.
What historical children's fiction have you read that you loved? It never hurts to have another couple (hundred) recommendations for the wishlist!

17 comments:

  1. I like Paterson, but must admit Bridge to Terabithia never did anything for me. :(

    As for some good historical children's books, off the top of my head I thought of 2 by Marthe Jocelyn, Earthly Astonishments and Mable Riley (in journal format, and set in my town).

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  2. This sounds really good. I've never read anything by this author but will have to give her a try. Great review!

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  3. I have a long list of children's fiction I've loved...Wrinkle in Time...Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry...Because of Winn-Dixie...Where the Red Fern Grows...Homer Price...These are what come immediately to mind....

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  4. Melanie, Bridge to Terabithia doesn't look that great to me either, but Jacob Have I Loved is one I hear about often. Thanks for the recs! I'll check those out!

    Samantha, I hope you enjoy it!

    Deb, I love me some children's fiction, but for some reason I don't read the historicals nearly as much as others. Though I'll be revisiting some for the children's lit course I'm teaching at a nearby university this semester. Whee! Thanks for the recs. I haven't read Roll of Thunder...scandal!

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  5. Good afternoon, Andi! I am glad you were able to finish another book. Lyddie sounds like an interesting book. I enjoyed Jacob Have I Loved as a child and Bridge to Terabithia more recently. Hopefully you will like them too!

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  6. Oh, you've hit on a real passion of mine--historical fiction, and young adult historical fiction in particular. I think I'm going to make a post on my blog about good historical fiction for children/young adults, but for now I'll recommend:
    The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
    Anything by Ann Rinaldi, but in particular My Father's House or The Coffin Quilt
    The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
    Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

    Oh, I'm inspired to make that list now!
    Glad you enjoyed Lyddie. I remember liking it, but not loving it. Not a big Terabithia fan, either, though.

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  7. Awesome review! Isn't it a great feeling to enjoy reading something from a courses required reading list (or maybe that's me being geeky again) :)

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  8. Don't miss JIP by Paterson, which is not-exactly-a-sequel to LYDDIE

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  9. Thanks, Wendy! I think I'll like Jacob Have I Loved very much. The idea of Bridge to Terabithia has never really blown my skirt up so to speak, but maybe I'll be surprised.

    Tammy, make that list because I can't wait to read it!!! I loved Watsons. I'm teaching that one in a couple of weeks.

    Joanne, it really is great to enjoy something required. Usually I freeze up and rebel when there's a due date, but I swept right through this one.

    Thanks for the tip, Marthe!

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  10. My favorites are old ones: The Secret Garden and Little Women. I'm racking my brain to come up with something recent, not sci-fi or fantasy, YA book in a historical setting. The only other that come to mind is A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, but that is a bit fantasy.

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  11. It is kinda hard to come up with titles, Melanie! I had a hard time myself. Incantation by Alice Hoffman was a great one. Other than that one and The Watsons Go to Birmingham, I'm drawing a big blank.

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  12. I've never heard of this one but it sounds wonderful! And, hey, as long as you've read some great books then the numbers don't matter :)

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  13. This is one of those books that I remember almost exclusively for the word it taught me: turpitude. (Like Trixie Belden, a series of mystery novels I remember mainly because they taught me the word "elucidate".) I liked Lyddie, but I couldn't stand Jacob Have I Loved and Bridge to Terabithia.

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  14. Right on, Iliana! You're so right about quality vs. numbers.

    Jenny, I loved the turpitude part! Ha! Such a great word. Jacob Have I Loved and Terabithia are getting some pretty mixed reviews. Looking forward to where I'll fall on the opinion scale.

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  15. I just found you from a link on Tara's blog. I read Lyddie last year, and wish I had written about it. I'd love to be able to go back and read what I wrote after reading your thoughts. That's why this year I have vowed to write a 'book report' on each book I read. Anyhow, I loved Lyddie. Without really planning to do so, I read three books on much the same theme. Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop - which happily I did write about:

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2008/09/book-reportcounting-on-grace.html

    and Bread and Roses, Too another great one by Katherine Paterson.

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