Back to the Classics 2017

It’s the last weekday of 2016. I’m spending the day getting prepped for 2017 – reorganizing homeschool stuff, resetting our family budget, and much more entertaining, setting up my reading challenges for the year!

Below is my plan for the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Books and Chocolate. In 2016 I completed 9 categories; this year I’m aiming for all 12. We don’t have anything major planned for the year so I should be able to do it… right? I created a simple checklist that I printed and punched for my day planner to track this challenge. If you would find that useful, it’s available on dropbox:

In addition, I’m doing the Christian Reading Challenge hosted by Tim Challies. I like the idea of diversifying my reading in addition to reading classics. I’m aiming for somewhere between the Light and Avid plans. I don’t want to rush through books; I want to savor them and be changed by them. Completing wo books a week would definitely require rushing in my life.

Back to the Classics 2017 PLAN (Written in pencil. Blanks will be filled as others start linking up. I need ideas!)

1.  A 19th Century Classic – something Mark Twain

2.  A 20th Century Classic – Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

3.  A classic by a woman author. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith (1943)

4.  A classic in translation.

5.  A classic published before 1800. Beowulf (Old English)

6.  An romance classic. 

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe (1794) – I’ve wanted to read this ever since reading Northanger Abbey. I’m pretty excited! 

8.  A classic with a number in the title. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens (1859)

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.

10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. A Passage to India, Forster (1924)

11. An award-winning classic.

12. A Russian Classic. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)

Back to the Classics 2016 Wrap Up

It’s the end of the year, so finished or not, here’s what I’ve completed for the Back to the Classics Challenge! I’m actually content with my results. I completed 9 challenge books plus a pretty decent stack of non-challenge books despite moving cross country and having to restart most parts of our lives. Next year nothing major is planned so MAYBE I’ll get through all 12! See the links for all the challenge wrap up posts HERE – what a great source of book suggestions for next year!

Links to each review, 9 total:

2. 20th Century Classic: The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

4. Classic in Translation: The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

5. Classic by a Non-White Author: Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

6. Adventure Classic: Treasure Island, Robert Lewis Stevenson

7. Fantasy Classic: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis

8. Classic Detective Novel: Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie

9. Classic with a Place in the Title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

10. Banned Classic: The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

12. Classic Short Stories: Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling

Skipped 1 (1800s), 3 (Woman author), 11 (Re-read)

Book Review: Just So Stories

This is my final review for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen’s Books and Chocolate! I’ll have dscn5604my summary post up very shortly. It’s only December 28th, I’m not late yet 😀

Just So Stories is a collection of short stories written by Rudyard Kipling. Intended for children, these stories illustrate possible answers for the many “WHY?” questions small children love to throw around. Questions such as, why does the camel have a hump? Why does an elephant have a trunk? Where did armadillos come from? In all, the volume I have contains 12 stories. According to Wikipedia, I’m only missing 1 tale – The Tabu Tale, missing from most British editions. My version is copyright 1912 with beautiful full color illustrations by J. M. Gleeson.dscn5603

Some of the stories are better than others. I didn’t connect with the two about Taffy the cave girl developing writing. “The Butterfly that stamped” made me smile repeatedly. “The Beginning of Armadillos” was hilarious (poor baby jaguar!). Both “Camel” and “Crab” have strong themes of fitting into the role you belong in – doing the work you were meant to do for the good of everyone. And, oh! The accuracy of the “Cat who walked by himself”!

These aren’t meant to be serious, they’re a bit of fun from a father to his child. Kipling explained:

“in the evening there were stories meant to put Effie to sleep, and you were not allowed to alter those by one single little word. They had to be told just so; or Effie would wake up and put back the missing sentence. So at last they came to be like charms, all three of them,—the whale tale, the camel tale, and the rhinoceros tale.” (

And “Remember that, because it’s important!” You will get the most out of them if you keep them as the fun stories they were intended to be (although, we can all learn a lesson or two along the way!)

This is my entry for category 12, Short Stories. You can find the link up HERE.

Book Review: The Little Prince

Memes are a thing these days, have you noticed? Some are funny, many are horrid, and once in a while you stumble across a gem that perfectly explains something in your life. This meme basically sums up The Little Prince:


The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is a short novel originally published in French in 1943. It chronicles the meeting of a pilot crashed in the desert and a strange little man who wants him to draw a sheep. Over the course of the novella we learn that the little man is a prince – not only a prince, but one from another planet. He’s had an incredible journey through the stars (by a flock of birds, no less) and much to say about “matters of consequence.”

I first read this book when I was in first grade. As a child myself, I found it an amusing story. To live on a planet the size of a house with only a rose as a friend? It was delightful. But there is so much more! When I was a senior in high school, I read the novella in French, followed by 2 or 3 essays also written in French. Because Honors French 4, right? I began to grasp some of the deeper life lessons. I also appreciated the beauty in the flow of the writing, some of which is lost in translation (French is an exceptionally beautiful language). My essays focused on the different grown ups the prince met in his travels and how empty their lives were. I’m pretty sure my teacher was trying to prepare us for college without saying trite things herself 😀

This time, while reading, I wept. I  wept over the narrator’s lost art career (Can’t you tell it’s a boa?). I wept over the idea of taming each other – for “one only understands the things that one tames” (pg 85). I wept for the baobab seeds infesting the soil, and for what happens if you put off for tomorrow the work of removing them. And I have wept for the times I have been too much like the grown ups.

For of course, this book has tamed me, and “one runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed…” (p 99)


This is my 8th entry in the 2016 Back to the Classics challenge, for the category of “Books in Translation.” The link up can be found here.

Book Review: The Wind in the Willows

The end is near – the end of the Back to the Classics Challenge for 2016! I completely fell off my pattern after moving. I can blame it on that: moving cross country, setting up new routines, whatever. Realistically, Pinterest gets a fair share of the blame as well… I’m swapping some of my original choices around to accommodate some lighter reads. I won’t get 12 done (there’s only 18 days left in the year!) but I’m aiming for 9. This is book #7.

Originally published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows is a collection of episodes of anthropomorphized animal friends. We begin with Mole who just *has* to leave his spring cleaning to go enjoy the weather. He quickly stumbles upon the Water Rat. This kindly soul collects Mole for a boating adventure and picnic as we get a brief introduction to life by the river side. Mole moves in with Rat and they begin a life of leisure along the waterfront.

I’m going to add a break so I can “spoil” some of the story; click read more for the rest.

Continue reading

Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath

Book 6 for my Back to the Classics Challenge: The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. Officially the most depressing book I’ve ever read. It took me 3 months to drag my way through it because I couldn’t read more than a handful of pages at a time.

200px-johnsteinbeck_thegrapesofwrathThis book fulfills the Banned Books category. Why was it banned? From Wikipedia:

At the time of publication, Steinbeck’s novel “was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read.”[13] According to The New York Times, it was the best-selling book of 1939 and 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940.[2] In that month it won the National Book Award, favorite fiction book of 1939, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association.[2] Soon it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[3]The book was noted for Steinbeck’s passionate depiction of the plight of the poor, and many of his contemporaries attacked his social and political views. Bryan Cordyack writes, “Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book’s depiction of California farmers’ attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a ‘pack of lies’ and labeled it ‘communist propaganda’”.[9] Some accused Steinbeck of exaggerating camp conditions to make a political point. Steinbeck had visited the camps well before publication of the novel[14] and argued their inhumane nature destroyed the settlers’ spirit.

The book begins hopeless as Tommy Joad returns home from prison to find the family home pushed off its foundation by a tractor – the family lost the farm to the bank. They’re at Uncle John’s down the road planning and packing up to head to California. They kill the last pigs and salt them down for food on the road. From this depressing beginning, they set off with varying degrees of optimism about their new life in California. The newlyweds (with baby on the way) dream of a house and a fence and a steady job; the older folks a little more subdued but still expectant.

What follows is 479 pages of misery. People die. People starve. People are treated like animals. People are cheated. More people die. Glimmers of hope come but they’re always balanced by hopelessness: at the government camp the migrant workers find humanity but no work; at the other camps there’s work but no humanity. Pick your misery.

The only redeeming part of this book is the character of Ma Joad. Although she suffers along with (and probably more than) the rest of the family, her strength is the only thing that keeps them alive and sane. It’s said beautifully early in the book (pg 81):

She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt or fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended on. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty.

This beauty carried through all the way to the last page when even in conditions far beyond what most of will ever see, much less experience, Ma continues to guide, love, care for, and provide not only for her blood relatives but for those others who have become part of the migrant family.

Maybe it’s just too fresh; even as I’m writing this I’m pondering more how Ma influences Rose of Sharon and imagining what kind of woman she may grow into, after the book closes. I wonder at what the anger that has risen within the migrant family will lead to. I wonder what influence Casey’s words will have on them as they struggle to survive the workless winter. I wonder.

This is my Banned Book for the Back to the Classics Challenge. The link up for this category can be found HERE.

Book Review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

This is my 5th book review for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I’m officially behind! Moving cross country really threw off my reading schedule – I’ve still been reading, but nothing that would be considered a classic.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by Lewis Carroll in 1865 and is often considered the best example of nonsense literature. Little Alice was bored one day as she sat beside her sister until by chance a White Rabbit raced by chattering about being late, pulling a watch from a pocket. In surprise, she followed him and fell down his rabbit hole into a world where nothing seems quite right.

Oh Alice. What on earth have you gotten yourself into?

Although Wonderland is completely imaginary – and beyond bizarre – I’m applying this book to the category of “Classic with a place in the title.” Wonderland is the most unique of places. Nothing makes sense and things happen at random. Words don’t mean the same thing as when one is in our own real world. Animals talk, people grow and shrink, and even playing cards are alive.

I don’t have much to add to this review other than an observation: this book isn’t my style. Maybe I’m just not in the right season of life to appreciate it’s brilliance, but I read it fast in order to be finished. I won’t be reading it again.

I’ve begun my 6th book: The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. It’s very long and hard to read so here’s hoping I can plow through! I have much to read in the next 5 months.