It’s World Book Day!!

Happy happy World Book Day and hurray for public libraries!!

World Book Day – a day to celebrate books, to read, to share, and to encourage everyone to read more. I could spend the rest of my life singing the praises of my favourite books, because once I get started on that topic I wouldn’t be able to stop. I would lament the lost years – early 2009 to late 2011 – when small needy children came between me and reading, and I was lucky to get through one book every six months. My ulterior motive in cultivating my children’s love of books was that they would leave me alone to get back to my own reading. From early 2012 my reading opportunities increased and I am now back to pre-baby reading levels.

But having babies leads to a new appreciation of books and today, on this day devoted to cultivating a love of books, I want to consider some of the best children’s literature I have had the pleasure of reading to and with my children in the past few years.

First of all, it must be said, there are some truly awful children’s books out there. Some children’s authors seem to think that young equals stupid and so any old nonsensical drivel can be thrown together and flung at children and their sleep-deprived parents. That sort of stuff can turn children and parents off reading forever. Parents are the ones, after all, who have to read those same stories day after day and night after night, and there is nothing worse than reading something aloud that is (a) badly written and (b) tells a terrible story.

But, oh, the joy of reading good children’s literature. It warms the heart and nurtures the soul. No matter how many times I read Winnie the Pooh (and I’ve read it and The House At Pooh Corner aloud at least three times) the last chapter brings me to tears and I find myself sobbing through the final paragraphs with Lily and Katie asking ‘Why are you crying, Mummy?’

When Lily was only weeks old I discovered Helen Cooper’s masterpiece Pumpkin Soup. Let me tell you now, if you are ever going to have a baby and you are expecting a gift from me, you are going to get a copy of Pumpkin Soup. Cooper’s illustrations and her uplifting and hilarious story about a Cat, a Squirrel and a Duck with a weakness for pumpkin soup are about as good as it gets when it comes to literature for anyone of any age. It wasn’t long before I bought books two and three in the series – A Pipkin of Pepper and Delicious, where naughty and contrary Duck continues to cause all sorts of problems for his two friends. Next I bought Cooper’s The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go To Bed. It is such a sweet and playful book and the brilliance of her illustrations continued to make me swoon.

I’m a firm fan of Julia Donaldson WHEN she works with the illustrator Axel Scheffler. The Donaldson-Scheffler books are tales of heroism, justice and friendship, all featuring unlikely heroes, such as a witch, an earthworm or a sea snail. The Snail And The Whale is, for obvious reasons, my favourite. It’s the story of a tiny snail who dreams of exploring the world, and sets off on an adventure on the tail of a humpback whale, and eventually saves the whale’s life. With the exception of What the Ladybird Heard, I am far less a fan   of the Donaldson books illustrated by Lydia Monks. Their tone is different and they are too full of pink princess types in need of rescuing for my liking.

And were would we be without Dr. Seuss, with his humorous and eloquent morality tales that teach us about the evils of power and greed (Yertle the Turtle), racism (The Sneetches), capitalism (The Lorex), and about humanity of the most seemingly insignificant (Horton Hears A Who), sharing (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas), and loyalty (Horton Hatches The Egg).

There are so many other wonderful children’s authors who have entertained Julian and I as much as they’ve entertained Lily and Katie – Lauren Childs, Robert Munsch, Mo Willems, Barbara M. Joosse.The girls think they’ve outgrown some of these books, but we know better! They will return to them again some day, I’m sure. Now, as I wrote in my last post, they are moving on to other things and I, for the first time, am discovering the wonders of C.S. Lewis. When the girls want me to read ‘just one more chapter’ I am happy to comply, because I am just as enthralled by the adventures in Narnia as they are.

And finally, on this day dedicated to books, I was once again reminded of how blessed we are to have public libraries run by thoughtful and generous-spirited librarians. The girls and I flew to Ireland yesterday to spend a few weeks with Mammy and my extended family. This afternoon we went to Edenderry library. I am no longer a member of this library, because I haven’t lived in Edenderry for many years. But I was a member throughout my childhood and early adulthood. We walked in the door this afternoon and Lily and Katie immediately descended on the books, sinking to the floor to read what they picked out.

I approached the desk. ‘Hello’, I said to the librarian. ‘I’m from Edenderry, but I don’t live here. I’m just here for three weeks. Would it be possible to get a temporary membership?’ ‘Are you Bridget’s daughter’, the librarian asked. Bridget reads more than anyone I know and it was she who took me to this library about once a week throughout my childhood. ‘Yes’, I said. ‘Don’t worry about membership’, the librarian said. ‘Take out as many books as you want on your mother’s card’. Ah, the generosity of librarians.

A while later we walked out, the girls with three books each, Mammy with three books, and I had C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew (the only one of The Chronicles of Narnia that we don’t have aboard Carina) and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam (which I was planning on buying the next time I was in a bookshop). World Book Day has been good to me!!

We read the first two chapters of The Magician’s Nephew when the girls went to bed. And now, if you will excuse me, it’s time to make a cup of tea, get into bed and start reading MaddAddam.

I hope World Book Day has treated you well too.


The goldfinch

Last week I discovered that my copy of Ruth Ozeki’s novel A tale for the time being had followed me from A Coruña on Spain’s northwest Atlantic coast to Aguadulce on the Costa del Sol in the Mediterranean, a distance of some 850 nautical miles. You can read about that discovery here. This week I had a strange literary experience of a different kind.

130902164718-fall-books-preview-the-goldfinch-horizontal-galleryWhen my friend Katie visited us aboard Carina in July, she rapidly read The goldfinch by Donna Tartt, racing through the final sixty pages on her last day with us, so she could leave the book with me, so desperate was she for me to read it too. I started to read it a few days later and I became so engrossed that one day I even forgot to make dinner for the family until Lily’s and Katie’s complaints of hunger drew my attention to the fact that it was two hours after their usual dinner time!

Fabritius' Goldfinch

Fabritius’ Goldfinch

The goldfinch is the story of a boy, Theo Decker, who, in a moment of great personal tragedy, steals Carel Fabritius’ 1654 painting of a goldfinch. The story follows Theo through his teenage and young adult years, and through his obsession with the painting. The goldfinch in the painting is a captive, chained by its leg to a perch. At one point in his life, Theo finds himself living on the outskirts of Las Vegas, in a house in the middle of a mostly deserted housing development. His life spirals out of control. He grows pale and gaunt and his teeth rot.

If you haven’t read the book, I urge you to read it. It is funny and heartbreaking and shocking and joyful, and certain scenes have remained with me (the morphine lollypop☺).

But what I have just recounted of the story is enough to set the scene for my strange literary encounter of last Thursday morning.

I have been attending a GP and having medical tests at a clinic at the opposite end of Aguadulce; about a 40 minute walk along the sea front. Eventually the road and path by the sea come to an end and, to get to the clinic, I walk through a partly deserted apartment development. It is one of those property developments built before the Spanish economy crashed, when houses and apartments were thrown up with little consideration to who might occupy them. (We have similar ghost housing estates in Ireland, built when times were good and when loans for property development were dispensed like confetti). From the beach to the clinic I walk past six or more ghost apartment blocks – three or four entire street blocks of apartments where eighty percent or more of the apartments appear unoccupied. There’s a never-been-used tennis court and a lots of empty parking spaces on the mostly deserted streets.

European goldfinch

European goldfinch

As I walked through this development the other morning on my way to the clinic my attention was drawn to something on the windowsill of a ground floor apartment. It was a tiny bird cage, no bigger than 20cm wide and 10cm high. As I got closer I realised there was a bird inside. It was a goldfinch, instantly recognisable by its red face and bright yellow patches on its wings. It fluttered about in a cage that was probably no more than four times its body size. I was shocked to see this bird imprisoned in such a tiny cage, perhaps even more shocked than I might otherwise be as it’s a bird I am used to seeing flitting about the UK countryside. I stopped for a moment to take a closer look. As I did, a young man appeared at the open window. He was pale and gaunt with fair hair. He wore a coffee-coloured dressing gown loosely tied at his waist. I said ‘Hola’, but he did not speak. I walked on. When I walked back along the same street half an hour later the bird cage was gone, and I couldn’t remember at which of the closed windows I had seen it.

In that mostly unoccupied housing development on the outskirts of town I had encountered Theo Decker and his goldfinch. It sent a shiver down my spine.


DSCI0049Yesterday I gave my final Geography lecture at Exeter University. Who knows, it may even have been my last Geography lecture ever. But never say never! A frog came into the lecture theatre mid-way through the class. Not any old frog, but a student wearing a rubber frog mask. He walked in, walked behind me and the lectern, took a bow and walked out the other door. Now, if you think I’m going to turn this into some profound insight into the nature of humanity, you’re wrong. I’m merely recounting the event because it was my last lecture, things like this don’t happen to me every day, and I won’t forget that last lecture any time soon. And I can imagine Anne Jarpe’s face as she reads this. That type of thing tickles her pink!

Yes, yes, so I’m emphasising (overemphasising, some might say) that it was my last lecture, but that underwhelming event brings me one step closer to life aboard Carina. Yesterday was momentous in another way too. Deep breath, I’m so happy to announce this…I finished my book!! I’m ecstacic beyond belief, although what I really want to do is lie down and sleep for a very long time. I printed out the manuscript this morning and it’s all ready to pack in my suitcase to take to New York. I have an American publisher, and they want hard copies, so it makes sense to mail it when I get to the US. I started my doctoral research in 2001, and it is only now, thirteen years on, that I have finally written the final sentence of the final paragraph of the final chapter of the book that emerged from my doctoral research and dissertation. Better late than never I guess. Now it’s out of my hands for while, as I await reviewers’ comments.

This week we officially informed the school that Lily and Katie will not be returning after the Easter holidays. The girls now have two more weeks and then we’re back to home educating them. It’s been a great experience for them, but Julian and I are both looking forward to having them all to ourselves again for (educational) adventures on the high seas!

You’ll notice I slipped New York in a few sentences back. Ah yes, I’m off to the Big Apple on Monday morning, with 36 undergrad Human Geography students for a field trip to Manhattan. Boy oh boy am I excited. I did the same trip last year, and I can’t be hyperbolic enough about it. Last year I visited my wonderful friends Meredith and Bryan at the end of the trip. This year, my sister is flying over to New York to join me for some Tyrrell-girl adventures once I’ve said goodbye to my students.

The trip to New York feels like a transition. Before New York there was teaching and writing the book; long days at work for me and long days at school for the girls; Julian ensuring the smooth running of everything at home. After New York I will have a couple of months of student assessments and marking, and the start of a brand new writing project. From early April we will be fully responsible for the girl’s education once again, and in late April we will move back home to Carina. I’m looking forward to taking on more domestic duties (I miss baking) and Julian will have more time for boat maintenance and repair.

Now, I must dash. Toothpaste and new socks to purchase for the trip!

Concrete jungle makes me feel brand new....

Concrete jungle makes me feel brand new….