A zest for adventure, deep loyalty and devotion, a charming naïveté, a genuine desire to help others, self-deprecating humour … all qualities Paddington Bear (affectionately known as “Paddy” in our household) displays with his own brand of loveable flair. It surprised me to learn that our earnest and sticky-pawed friend has been around since writer Michael Bond first introduced him to us in 1958 Paddington is a treasure with whom we’ve grown up and been able to enjoy again with our children and perhaps even grandchildren. Twelve chapter books were published between 1958 and 2008 with many incarnations of each issued in picture book formats as well.  In 2012, old Paddy Bear couldn’t resist the excitement of Olympic Fever and has come out of hibernation to hit the track running.

It may impress you to know that Michael Bond, now 86 years old, has written prolifically beyond the realm of Paddington. He is responsible as well for the equally charming Gastronome Sleuth, Monsieur Pamplemousse and mischievous guinea pig Olga da Polga. In all, Bond has written more than 150 books and shows no sign of slowing down. In a recent BBC interview he indicated Paddington may have a few more “jams” ahead of him to be recounted in a new book or books.

I simply cannot do justice to the extent of Paddington’s endeavours – he is one busy, busy bear! He has served as a diplomat (was the first offering to the French by the British when the Chunnel connected for the first time), has flown with Richard Branson on speed record seeking missions, been honoured by the Queen with Mr. Bond, Michael Bond, and has seen his image manifested on everything from PJs ( Marks and Spencer’s best-selling ever!) and bed sheets, to tea bags and wall paper. He will always be my favourite “teddy” bear – I cherish mine while my boys have their own. For an entertaining peek into the world of all things Paddington take a few minutes to visit his website here.

And now for even more breaking news: Paddington is going to the movies! We will have to wait until 2014 but meanwhile according to The Guardian:

Harry Potter producer David Heyman is behind the film, described as “a modern take” on Michael Bond’s best-selling books which have sold more than 35 million copies.

He said: “Paddington Bear is a universally loved character, treasured for his optimism, his sense of fair play and his perfect manners, and of course for his unintentional talent for comic chaos.

“Michael Bond’s books offer such wit and wonder, and I am so delighted at this chance to bring Paddington to the big screen.”

We didn’t see Paddington among other literary characters at the Opening Ceremonies but if Twitter tweeters have their way, Paddington might be invited to the closing ceremonies. They believe Aunt Lucy would be pleased!

Jan Brett – Snowy Delight!

December 12, 2011

If you are seeking a seasonal tale for a child in your life or an adult who enjoys gorgeous illustrations and heartwarming folktales, then do visit the Jan Brett section at the bookshop. Every one of her colourful stories is brilliant but I particularly delight in her wintry tales; they’re perfect for this time of year.  All of her books feature a wonderful array of animals and often exotic locations – she’s even blogged for the National Geographic about her travels and furry inspiration. (Read more here.) It’s also fascinating to hear about Jan at home with her very own menagerie – she raises a fancy brood of chickens and has a resident hedgehog who always graces the pages of her tales. It’s hard to choose a favourite but I am smitten by The Mitten!

Eloise … and Kay!

November 22, 2011

Ahhhh Eloise. Who doesn’t love this little scamp?  She’s precocious, chatty, and cheeky, lives in New York City’s Plaza Hotel, torments her Nanny and the hotel staff, has a pet turtle named Skipperdee (he eats raisins she’s ordered from room service) and a pug called Weenie. She’s a busy one for all of six years old and she’s a favourite of several generations of storybook readers for sure. I couldn’t even begin to do justice to all of the reincarnations of Eloise out there so instead I offer this link to her home page where you’ll read about her various stories and the background. Meanwhile for present-day activities at The Plaza Hotel be certain to take a peek here.

Eloise was first published in 1955 and is a product of the imagination of one Kay Thompson – a musical performer, renowned vocal arranger for the likes of Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra, actress famed for her appearance with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in Funny Face and a generally quirky character herself. She collaborated with illustrator Hilary Knight who was perfectly skilled in bringing to life the words of Kay in the form of our beloved Eloise. It seems obvious that Eloise was just a smaller version of the real-life Kay though rumours swirl that her God-daughter Liza Minnelli was the inspiration. To straighten out this story and learn more about the lively Kay Thompson I’m delighted to report we can turn to the pages of a newly released biography by Sam Irvin.

If you think Eloise is a handful, you’ll be astonished by the sassiness of her creator.  This quote from Kay has me hooked on wanting to learn more about her:

I’ve discovered the secret of life: a lot of hard work, a lot of sense of humor, a lot of joy, and a whole lot of tra-la-la!
— Kay Thompson

Tra-la-la!

Channeling Half Pint

May 1, 2011

Does this book’s cover spark a pang of nostalgia?  Did you also spend your early reading years immersed in the adventurous world of Half-Pint? My Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books were the 1971 edition illustrated by Garth Williams and were gifted to me as a boxed set. (Thank you Santa!) I’m typing this with dusty mitts as I was just flipping through the pages of my still treasured collection. Had Santa elected to purchase just a single copy of one of the books it would have set him back $1.50 (or $1.75 in Canada). What has brought Laura out of the cupboard you may wonder … Well there’s a newly released book that takes a fondness for the Ingalls clan to a whole new level …

Wendy McClure, a children’s books editor, also adored the Little House series when a child and returned to them as an adult. The re-reading of the books inspired McClure to launch an exploration of the world of Laura. Her memoir The Wilder Life is described by Indie Bound:

“For anyone who has ever wanted to step into the world of a favorite book, here is a pioneer pilgrimage, a tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and a hilarious account of butter-churning obsession.

Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder-a fantastic realm of fiction, history, and places she’s never been to, yet somehow knows by heart. She retraces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family- looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota. She immerses herself in all things Little House, and explores the story from fact to fiction, and from the TV shows to the annual summer pageants in Laura’s hometowns. Whether she’s churning butter in her apartment or sitting in a replica log cabin, McClure is always in pursuit of “the Laura experience.” Along the way she comes to understand how Wilder’s life and work have shaped our ideas about girlhood and the American West.

The Wilder Life is a loving, irreverent, spirited tribute to a series of books that have inspired generations of American women. It is also an incredibly funny first-person account of obsessive reading, and a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones-and find that our old love has only deepened.”

Wendy McClure has written several memoirs and manages humour adeptly. Though my initial thought was uh-oh – a Laura groupie on the loose (You will learn about those in the book too!) I have been impressed by the number of positive reviews. Perhaps I’ll add this to my summer reading list. You?

The Snow Goose

May 27, 2010

Last week I came across an interesting endeavour on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book program:  a number of well-known authors had been recruited to put forth nominations of “forgotten treasures of the literary world – books that have been overlooked or become inexplicably out of vogue and which most deserved to be re-read and reinstated onto our bookshelves.”  The winning selection presented by Michael Morpurgo was a beloved book of mine, The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico.  The story recounts the relationship between a young girl and a reclusive lighthouse keeper who share in the recovery of an injured snow goose during wartime. The Dunkirk evacuation plays a significant role in the story. In fact “A story of Dunkirk” is the subtitle in UK editions. Short on pages this gorgeous tale is loooong on memorable heart wrenching emotion. I had planned this post already but when I woke up this morning to the news that today begins the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk I knew the topic was destined to be!  It is a wonderful book to read yourself but can also be shared with your older children and teens. It has been assigned reading in many schools. 

A quick review of the historical background according to The Telegraph:

The Dunkirk evacuation, dubbed Operation Dynamo, saw 338,000 troops rescued from the beaches of northern France between May 27 and June 4, 1940. It came after the speed of the German advance through the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France left nearly half a million British and French troops trapped there. The rescue was led by the Royal Navy, which drafted in ships and boats of every size including pleasure boats, private yachts and launches. Described as a ”miracle of deliverance” by British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, it is seen as one of several events in 1940 that determined the eventual outcome of the war.

To read more about the Evacuation of Dunkirk and to see images read here.

To listen to the “Neglected Classics” piece on BBC Radio 4 and to hear an excerpt from The Snow Goose read aloud, click here.  The fascinating recent follow up on the Open Book  show is here. To learn more about the cultural impact of this story, click here.

Does this look familiar to any of you? Any pangs of nostalgia? This treasure, “Spring is a New Beginning” was written and illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund and is one of more than 75 books she has written beginning in 1958 with “A Friend is Someone Who Likes You”.  Other favourites include “What Color is Love?” and “Love Is A Special Way of Feeling”. She is also known for her series featuring “The Brave Cowboy”. The phrases in each of these are simple, charming and focused on important messages like  “A friend is someone who likes you. It can be a boy … it can be a girl … or a cat … or a dog … or even a white mouse. A tree can be a different kind of friend. It doesn’t talk to you, but you know it likes you, because it gives you apples … or pears …. or cherries … or, sometimes, a place to swing.”  (from  A Friend is Someone Who Likes You)     

 

Joan Walsh Anglund has a devoted following (more than 40,000,000 of her books have been sold!)  Learn more about her and about the story behind her stories by clicking here.

          

 What are some of your first book memories?

 

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