Brief Hiatus and a Flashback to a Flashback!

Holiday demands are creeping up on me this week!  I hope to be back with a new entry soon, but realize sleep is also necessary. To that end I’m reposting this Flashback Friday post from June 2013, since I’ve recently been rereading the series again.

Flashback Fridays: The little queen all golden, Flew hissing at the sea . . .

Dragons.  Who hasn’t encountered dragons in the fantasy worlds they read?  Out of all mythical creatures, these giant flying lizards are truly some of the most recognized creatures of fantasy stories.  But do you remember one of the original science fiction stories with dragons?

I discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong (c1976) when I was about ten and already quite sold on the idea of dragons.  So of course a cover of a book with a girl on it and little dragons flying around just wasn’t going to be skipped.    There are two more that follow this one.  The second continues the story of our main character from the first book and maintains a middle grade feel.  The third book follows another character and tends to be closer to YA fiction.

If you’re not familiar with the Pern books, specifically the Harper Hall books,  this trilogy of stories focuses for the first two books on a misfit girl named Menolly who has an amazing gift for music.  But in the world she inhabits, only boys can be Harpers.  So Menolly is oppressed and punished for her creativity until she runs away . . . and discovers something extraordinary.  Menolly already knows about the giant dragons that are bonded with their dragonriders and patrol the skies of Pern, but she’s never seen tiny dragons before.   Menolly’s adventures will lead her from living outside in the wilds, to the great dragon rider halls, to the Harper Halls themselves.

Sounds pretty much like a fantasy, right?  Well that’s where it gets tricky.

Is this scifi? Is this just fantasy? Dances with fire lizards just aint reality . . . ^_^

Menolly’s rather medieval sounding world almost could be a pure fantasy world.  But here and there are strange artifacts and elements.  The creatures that live in this world, and the deadly Thread spores that the dragons burn from the skies aren’t anything typical to a human earth like world.  Arguably it could be a fantasy.  And McCaffrey never completely comes out and says it’s not in this trilogy.  It’s only upon reading the adult books in the series that you learn for certain that this is a colonized planet, hundreds of years later.    The planet Pern was colonized by space faring humans.  The dragons are bioengineered creatures, made from the fire lizard DNA.

A new reader might not realize this until they graduate in their reading,  but it’s kind of exciting to go from a story that’s simply impossible to one that actually might some day be plausible.

And while the dragons in this book were a great element, it was Menolly’s own denied passion for music that really carries the story.  McCaffrey weaves a perfectly good coming of age story into these pages and I don’t think that story has faded in the decades since I read it.  This is one flashback book that is still in print and available on the library shelves much of the time.  I still feel that the first two books in this series remain among the best books that Anne McCaffrey wrote.  I’ve read and reread my copies until they are all but tatters.

These are books that are like old friends I can retreat to when life is overly demanding.  Wonderful, cozy little story gems that bring me right back to being eleven years old and sprawled out on the carpeted floor of the library.

What’s your go-to book for re-reading?

Miss you, dragon mistress. Anne McCaffrey (April 1, 1926- November 21, 2011

A Tuesday Ten: I’m Flying!

The idea of the ability to fly without the use of machines to help us has enchanted human beings for a long time.  From Icarus to Superman, this is one of the powers most often wished for in the super hero repertoire.  So this week’s list is about flight.  Specifically the kind of amazing flight and flying done by people and creatures who usually don’t fly.


Powerless by Matthew Cody (Knopf Books, 2009)

Daniel is the new kid in town.  It’s a town where many of the kids have mysterious super powers, including the ability to fly.  But every child loses their abilities and memory of having those abilities on their thirteenth birthday.  Daniel may not have powers, but he may have the abilities needed to solve this mystery.  In the sequel, Super (2012) Daniel discovers he suddenly has super powers, including the power of flight.  But he only seems to have them if he drains them off of one of his super-powered friends . . .


The Boy Who Could Fly by James Norcliffe (Edgmont USA, 2010)

Red is a desperately lonely boy, yearning to see more of the world.  When he meets the loblolly boy with his ability to fly on great green wings, Red wants to learn to fly himself.  But Red has no idea of the price he will pay to gain such wings for himself . . .


Gwinna by Barbara Helen Berger (Philomel, c1990)

Gwinna is a child given to a childless couple.  But she is also a girl with wings growing on her back.  Rather than embrace her differences, her parents bind her wing, fearing that which they don’t understand.  After she can no longer take the oppressive binding, Gwinna runs away and sets out on a quest to discover who she is in truth. (and yes, she does fly)


Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann (NorthSouth, May 2014)

Mice don’t fly . . . or do they?   One small mouse with a penchant for engineering and invention finds a way to gain flight in order to escape his oppressive city.  Admittedly, the mouse flies in a plane at the end of  the story, but the fantastic notion that this mouse could build such devices as in this book makes it perfect for the list.


The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Knopf Books, 2004)

A stunningly beautiful story that’s spins a folktale about people from Africa who were able to fly.   The story recounts how those people lost their ability when they were taken as slaves and brought to the U.S. and how they forget that their people had ever flown . . . until an old man starts reminding people of that fact, and urging them to break their bonds and soar once more.  Leo and Diane Dillon’s images really capture the essence of this story.


The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester (Feiwel and Friends, 2008)

Piper McCloud has the ability to fly, something she’s tried to keep a secret for years, but now her secret’s out and she’s been invited to join a mysterious school for kids like her–kids with special powers all their own.  Only something is very wrong with the school, and Piper becomes determined to escape.


Arnold of the Ducks by Mordicai Gerstein (HarperCollins, c1983) 

Poking fun at the story of Tarzan of the Apes, we have this silly, but charming tale of Arnold, a baby boy who is lost and taken under the wing of a mama duck.  Mama duck treats Arnold just as she does her other babies . . . and with some effort even teaches the boy to fly.  When he’s discovered by humans who take him back to civilization, Arnold still keeps some of his duck roots and must come to their aid when they are threatened.


Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrations by S. D. Schindler (Scholastic, c1988)

Generally cats can’t fly either. But in this story, an entire litter of kittens is born with wings and must learn to survive in the world.  Neither quite like their four-footed feline brethren, nor likely to win friends among bird kind, these kits must find some place all their own.


Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K. G. Campbell (Candlewick, 2013)

This year’s Newbery winner makes this list.  A squirrel has a tragic accident with a vacuum cleaner . . . and comes out of it with a strange set of superpowers.   Chief among these is the power to fly (which is not normally associated with squirrels unless they’re a particular gliding type of flying squirrel.  With moniker Ulysses, our squirrel super hero works to make sense of his super powers and what they mean to a small furry rodent.  He and Flora will share a most remarkable, and endearing, friendship.


Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, illustrated by F. D. Bedford (Barnes and Noble Classics, c1902)

Some of you probably thought of this one straight out.  What list on flying would be complete without this famous classic?  What is required for flight in this story of a wild boy who never grows up is a pinch of pixie dust–as well as some happy thoughts.    The main purpose of flight appears to be to fly between earth and neverland and to get the best of those nasty pirates!

So there’s my ten!  What are your favorite stories about flying?



Flashback Fridays: What it means to be real . . .

You’re a stuffed rabbit given to a little boy.  But you yearn for more than simply to be one more unremarkable toy.

Do you remember:

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson (Avon, c1922)

Here, folks, is one of the original toy stories.  It’s a strange little book that’s never quite disappeared from the canon of classics, yet lurks on the edges–often overshadowed by Winnie the Pooh or Charlotte’s Web.  At only 40 pages long, it usually falls into the young reader section . . . or creeps into picture books.  This is one of those stories that’s often forgotten about until it’s mentioned by another and then everyone remembers it fondly.

The story opens on Christmas Day, where the velveteen rabbit is a present for a young boy.  The rabbit isn’t of much interest to the boy at first, shinier and more active toys take the boy’s attention.  It’s only after the boy needs something to sleep with one night that the rabbit becomes a favorite toy.  Over time he is worn down, as most stuffed toys will become.  But the wise old Skin Horse has told the rabbit about Nursery Magic and how a toy goes from being just a toy to being Real. The rabbit yearns for this to happen to him, even though becoming Real is a long process.

This bittersweet story of loss, magic and toys is, in some ways, as much a story for adults with its message about how to become real.

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I was thinking about how this process of becoming real has a lot to do with 4D vision.  We see in three dimensions all the stuff we are just encountering or go by day to day without forming attachments.  But for those people and things that become important to us, we don’t see them as a single moment in time, but all the times, all the memories, all the relationship in one go.  I see my daughter as the three year old she is while still seeing the newborn I brought home and every age in between.  I have my old Real toys as well.  A bear who has no stuffing left, has lost his mouth and nose and has part of an ear accidentally burned off.  But I see him for all the countless nights spent cuddling, of every overnight stay he was packed for, for all the games we played.

For such a slim book, this has an awful lot of power. I actually was first introduced to this story by a children’s TV movie in the 1980s .  Please check this version out rather than the more recent 2009 version if you’re interested in televised versions of the story.

The author, Margery Williams (also known as Margery Williams Bianco) wrote this book at 41 years of age, and it is her best known work.  However, she has authored other books for children.  In looking her up, I found that The Velveteen Rabbit is actually part of a loose trilogy of stories about children’s toys.  The other two: The Skin Horse  (1927) and The Little Wooden Doll (1927) were likewise bittersweet stories about toys and the children who loved them.  However, neither of these brief tales had the staying power or elegance of the first story.

Most readers today will be familiar with the Toy Story movie, maybe it’s time to introduce them to a book that was written well before then along similar themes.

Comments welcome!


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