Romance by the Book

Yesterday afternoon my daughter found my February issue of Real Simple magazine lying on the kitchen counter.  It was opened to the no-obligation Book Club page which was asking readers, “Who is your favorite fictional couple?”  As Lovey breezed through the article, she made comments like “Oh, yes, definitely Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester”, and “This lady called Mr. Darcy a pompous jerk!”(said with a giggle).  This little article sparked a lively discussion of who our favorite fictional couples are.  In celebration of Valentine’s day, I thought I’d share the couples that landed at the top of our lists.  If you’d like to join in with your own favorites, please feel free.

Stephany’s List of Favorite Fictional Couples (in no particular order)

  • Claire Beauchamp Randall and James (Jamie) Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser –  They are the main characters in The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  Claire is an unwitting time traveler from the twentieth century who accidentally crosses into the eighteenth century through some standing stones at Craigh na Dun in Scotland.  In her confusion, she stumbles upon Jamie and some men from his clan during a skirmish with the English.  They mistake her for a spy and take her against her will.  From that point until the end of the book, the action and adventure never stop.  As individuals, Claire and Jamie are fascinating characters.  Together, they generate a passion quotient that is smokin’ hot.  Their love deepens and matures as they endure Scotland’s tragic struggle with England and their own final separation across time.  I confess, The Outlander series is my guilty reading pleasure.  (And, no, my fifteen year old daughter has not read this book – just in case you are wondering.)
  • Anne Elliott and Captain Frederick Wentworth – I love Jane Austen.  I’ve read all of her novels many times – they are comfort food in the form of books to me.  While I enjoy the antics of all the couples as they decide whether or not they truly love each other,I find the story of Persuasion’s Anne and Captain Wentworth is just a bit different. They’ve already been very much in love.  But when Frederick Wentworth, who had little money, quietly asked Anne, who was very wealthy, to marry him, she refused based on the advice of a family friend who felt he simply wasn’t good enough.  Years later, Anne, who is still filled with regret, is living at home with her vapid father and sister, wasting away into spinsterhood.  Certain circumstances bring Anne and Frederick back together and their situations have changed considerably.  Frederick is now a Captain of his own ship with plenty of money and Ann’s family has fallen on very hard times.  Even though there are  misunderstandings and hurt feelings, the constancy of their love finally brings them together in the end.  The 1995 version of the movie does a great job of depicting their quiet struggles, Anne’s hope, and their final reunion.  So. Very. Romantic.
  • Jane Eyre and Mr. Edward Rochester – If I were forced to pick only one fictional couple, Charlotte Bronte’s creation would be the one.  I love Mr. Rochester for treating Jane with dignity and equality after her horrid upbringing.  Jane is a breath of fresh air for Mr. Rochester with her quiet but passionate temperament.  They build a relationship based on friendship, mutual respect, and desire.  The fact that their story is tumultuous just adds to the drama.  I read the book after seeing several versions of the movie and came to love these characters even more through the written word.  I ask you, how can anyone watch Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens and not believe that Jane and Mr. Rochester are the most passionately devoted couple ever brought to life on the pages of a book?

Lovey’s List of Favorite Fictional Couples (in no particular order, either)

  • Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare) – required reading in 9th grade but my swooning little romantic is way ahead of the game.
  • Elinor Dashwood and Edward Faris (Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen) -Hugh Grant plays such a fabulously awkward Edward.  However, Lovey would like to make it clear that Edward is not quite so awkward in the book.  I concur.
  •  Buttercup and Wesley (The Princess Bride by William Goldman) – As you wish….
  • Katherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte) – I have to mention the obsession issues.  Lovey just shakes her head.  In all fairness, I have not read the book and she has so she probably knows what she’s talking about.
  • Jane Eyre and Mr. Edward Rochester (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte) – Please see detailed description above.  Lovey is in complete agreement.

A cursory glance at my 50/50 book list would verify that I don’t generally read books strictly for romance.  I prefer a expertly woven story with interesting characters that I can identify with.  If a believable and juicy romance is interwoven through the fabric of such a story, so much the better, then.  It’s delicious icing on an already soul-satisfying cake.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

My Most Favorite Christmas Books For Kids

Christmas is struggling to come to my house this year.  I’m not lying – I still have pumpkins sitting on the front porch.  I’m in the throes of birthing two major projects for school and Mr. Whimsey is working long hours and attempting to purchase his company by dutifully jumping through all the required legal hoops.  And then, as always, there is the house itself.  Stuff is piled, scattered, and relocated throughout the first floor (and everywhere else) as a result of the remodeling process.  Even though we are making great strides – the hardwood floor is almost finished and the French doors are hung – I can’t bear the thought of tossing anything else into the chaos.  Even if it’s beautiful Christmas decorations.

We have managed to pull all the Christmas boxes from storage.  Of course, they are now littered throughout the basement and upstairs hallway.  One of the first boxes the kids always open is the one filled with Christmas books.  I started purchasing Christmas books when Lovey was born and have added new ones to the collection every year since then.  We used to read the books together in the evenings before bed.  Now that the kids are older and bedtimes vary so much, they will often get the books out and read them on their own.

As I looked through the books last night, I reminisced about snuggling my little Whimseys and reading heart warming stories about Christmas together. I also thought about reading chapter books in the dim, quiet hallway outside bedrooms where the kids were tucked in for the night.  As I paged through the books, I could feel the holiday spirit that had been eluding me so far begin to penetrate my worn-out bones.

I’ve decided to share some of my most favorites books.  These choices achieve favored status because of the many wonderful memories associated with them.  However, each book stands on its own as a worthwhile read.  I promise.   (I’ve basically listed them in order of age appropriateness, starting from youngest to oldest.)

My Most Favorite Christmas Books for Kids

1. The First Night by B. G. Hennessy with illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.  The Nativity story is told in simple, almost poetic prose and the illustrations are absolutely wonderful.  The tone of the book is all quiet and stillness and there is a real sense of the holiness of that night.

2. Who Is Coming To Our House? by Joseph Slate with illustrations by Ashley Wolff.  I love the illustrations in this book! (You’ll find this is a theme with me.)  The story is told through the animals as they prepare the stable for the arrival of Mary and Joseph.  It is written with a rhyming cadence that makes for nice out-loud reading.  The animals’ personalities and excitement really shine through the text and the images.

3. Claude The Dog written and illustrated by Dick Gackenbach.  This little story is adorable.  Hidden within its cuteness is a powerful message of generosity, told in a way that even little kids can understand.  Honestly, this is a tear-jerker.  Ace routinely requests this story and listed it as one of his favorites.

4. The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado with Jenna, Andrea, and Sara Lucado, and illustrated by Liz Bonham.  A small, crippled lamb named Josh stays behind in the stable because he’s unable to keep up with the flock.  The wonderful experience that comes out of this disappointment reinforces that fact that God has a purpose for each one of us.  Seventeen years ago, my sister gave birth to a little girl with almost overwhelming physical limitations.  Just breathing was a constant battle for her.  For thirteen years, we had the pleasure of knowing her and then it was time to say good-bye.  She loved to hear this Christmas story.  I cannot even look at this book without thinking of Molly.  For obvious reasons, it has a very special place in my heart.

5. The Polar Express written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg.  This is also a beautifully illustrated book.  Would you expect anything less from Mr. Van Allsburg?  The story is filled with so much mystery, magic, and belief.  As you read, you can sense the silence of the snowfall, the warmth of the train car, and the excitement of the elves. It deserves that Caldecott Medal it proudly displays on its cover.  This is secular Christmas fiction at its very best.

6. Who’s That Knocking On Christmas Eve? written and illustrated by Jan Brett.  The illustrations in this story create such a sense of place – of Nordic wintertime and Christmas.  The story is fun, filled with mythical trolls and pet polar bars.  It simply is a pleasure to read.  This was also a much requested book when Ace was smaller.  We even read it when it wasn’t Christmas.

7. The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell with illustrations by Paul Micich.  This story describes a small angel boy who has trouble behaving like an angel once he gets to heaven.  He wants to do boy things instead.  God chooses this littlest angel’s gift to give to Jesus on his birth day.  This is a very sweet story with many grown-up lessons underpinning it.  For me, because I have two boys, the entire story resonates clearly and emotionally.  It also reminds me that Jesus was once a boy just like my two “angels”.

8. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by  Barbara Robinson.  I first heard this story in fourth grade.  Mrs. Fisher read a chapter of it to us every day after recess.  I loved it so much I couldn’t wait to share it with my kids.  The story revolves around the Herdmans, really rotten kids from a highly dysfunctional family.  They single-handedly turn a church tradition upside down and in the process pull off the best Christmas pageant ever.  There’s a lot of humor with a good dose of subtle morality.  The gift of a ham for baby Jesus?  Why not?

9. On Christmas Eve by Ann M. Martin.  This is the second Christmas chapter book we read as a family about a girl named Tess who was determined to see the real Santa.  Vintage setting of Christmas in 1958.  Infused with magic.  Lots of snow. Uplifting story.  What more could anyone ask for?  This is a very satisfying family story especially as a read-a-chapter-aloud-at-bedtime book.

10. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  The granddaddy of Christmas stories and my favorite of all time.  The dark mysterious feel of most of the book, the ghosts, and the magic would be entertaining enough.  Mix in the concepts of forgiveness, salvation, and redemption and I’m hooked for life.  I confess that I haven’t read this one out loud for all the kids.  We started to, but it ended up being too spooky for bedtime.  Lovey and Buddy have since read the tale on their own.  Ace thinks he might try it this year – maybe.

I realize that there could be some serious disagreement with my choices.  Even among my family members I’ve heard some adamant disapproval.  Lovey would like to see The Last Straw, Holly Claus, and The Story of Christmas added to the list.  Buddy lobbied for How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Santa Paws, and The Tale of the Three Trees.  Ace’s favorites include Olive the Other Reindeer and Santa’s Favorite Story.  I agree with all these recommendations but there has to be a cut-off point somewhere, right?

Are there any books you’d like to add to the list of Most Favorite Christmas Books For Kids?  We are always looking for stories to add to our collection.