Tag Archives: anne of green gables

wood, paper, scissors


I’m not exactly between projects right now, but the ones I’ve got on the go aren’t always going. For a variety of reasons, I work on them in fits and starts, which means that I’m not always getting the level of creativity I need to keep me feeling like myself. Writing is like iron, or protein, or plain old steamed vegetables. It makes me feel good and normal. This blog has been a bit of a saviour in that way, because it gives me an outlet, a place to put an idea down and give it eyes, hair and teeth, and then hold it up for others to see. But it isn’t always enough.

To N from Z: Have a happy birthday and float away!

To N (left with black shoes) from AW (right with blue shoes)

Watching N with her drawings, her homemade books, her modelling clay lizards and zebras and “coccinelles” that she whips up for school projects, I envy the way she creates without getting in her own way. Her friends do the same. This weekend was her eighth birthday, so we had a gaggle of girls over, squealing and giggling throughout the house on their treasure hunt, then blind-folded as they stuck a lightning bolt or a moustache or — squeals again — a kiss on Harry Potter (a literary alternative to pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey). And afterwards as we opened the presents, I noticed that most of the cards were homemade.  AJ based hers around the Wizard of Oz, with Dorothy saying “I have a feeling we’re going to a partie, Toto.” AF painstakingly taped tiny bits of torn paper (snow?) all over the back of hers. T drew a picture of herself with N, standing beside a flaming cake as tall as them. And M wrote a lengthy missive embellished with dots and swirls and the wish that “you have a good time being 8.”

I think it becomes harder and harder for us to create spontaneously as we get older, just as it gets harder to jump on beds and pretend to be spies or fairies or teachers teaching a room full of stuffed-animal pupils. Yet it’s oh so important. It clears out cobwebs and calls up a near-forgotten language. So this week I stood aside and let myself play with wood, paper and scissors, just to see what would happen. And what emerged (from the influence of reading with N and writing about it here) was L.M. Montgomery, Anne, and the mouse that fell into the pudding.

Diana, fancy if you can my extreme horror at finding a mouse drowned in that pudding sauce! I lifted the mouse out with a spoon and threw it out in the yard and then I washed the spoon in three waters.

Now N has been inspired by me and wants to make her own collages. It’s what she wants to be, she says. An artist. But as soon as she’s said it she isn’t quite sure. Does it rule out better things? The other night at dinner she asked what we thought she should be, and gave us choices: “An artist, a writer, a farmer, a teacher, or a vet?”

We asked what the appeal was for each one, and she told us:

“If I was an artist I could make pictures with A.”

“If I was a writer, I could write books with T.”

“If I was a teacher, I could be just like Madame.”

“If I was a farmer, I could feed people who are hungry. Just with milk, though, or vegetables. I don’t want to kill any animals.”

“If I was a vet, I could help the poor little animals who are sick and need me!”

The writer-mother and the artist-teacher-father glanced at each other. Whatever you choose, we told her, it has to come from inside you. Right now it sounds like you should be a farmer or a vet. But you have lots of time to decide.

She thought about that a bit. And then she rhymed off different answers. “So,” she asked us. “Now what do you think I should be?”

Hmmmm. So many choices. To be or not to be?

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No longer required but impossible to give away

Batty Bat, as black as night, loves to give his friends a fright....

Well before N reached her first birthday, we were reading to her on a regular basis. The story we read most in those early days, when she was still pretty much toothless and drooly, was Batty Bat: a snuggle book. It had a purple fuzzy cover with a bat sewn on to it, upside down. The bat’s sparkly wings were attached only at the body, so a baby’s hands could reach out and grab them. I don’t think she understood a word we were saying, but we read that book oodles of times every day. I used my best spooky Count Dracula voice, and N’s dad, ever the film buff, sounded strangely like Peter Lorre. When we got to the last page, shown here, she’d wedge her little finger into the bat’s mouth to feel his fuzzy pink tongue. And then we’d read it again.

But board books, fuzzy or not, are pretty quickly outgrown. Eventually Batty Bat was tucked in the bottom drawer, with N’s first shoes, the duckie sleeper she wore home from the hospital, and an assortment of other keepsakes, no longer required but impossible to give away.

When I recently came upon the book again, I was right away reminded of those first months of reading to N, her snuggled in my lap and me pointing to the pictures as Spider, Wolf and Mouse joined the story. I remember the feeling of her wispy hair against my cheek, and the wonderful baby smell that surrounded her. In this case, the book has more sentimental value for me and N’s dad than it does for her. So what will be her bookshelf treasures in the years to come — those stories that are like portals to an earlier time?

I had a note from a subscriber the other day, who told me that he still has his favourite childhood book, given to him by his aunt when he was three years old — and that was 77 years ago! When he looks through the book now, with its torn cover and his little sister’s crayon scribblings, he can still hear his father’s voice reading the words. Which makes me think that books have power not just for the stories they contain. The books themselves — as containers, as cherished objects — can take us back to the days they first effected us. With the onset of ebooks, will people stop reading paper books with children? I don’t mind the new technology, though I don’t yet use it myself. But I can’t help thinking it will be quite a loss not to have those books on our bookshelves through a lifetime, because spotting them, pulling them out, flipping through them, and even smelling them connects us to our pasts. The thing about a paper book is that it ages with you, and the yellowed pages, the coffee stains, the worn covers, become part of its beauty.

My mom has her old copies of Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea on the bottom shelf of  a little table that sits at the top of the stairs, so that each time you walk upstairs, you notice them. I suspect that’s just why she keeps them there, not far from a great old picture of her parents among many at a company picnic back in the 1930s, before they’d officially met. (Perhaps this was even the day they met? There I go, inventing stories.) The picture sits right on the floor of the landing, and when I asked my mom why she didn’t hang it up on the wall, she told me she thinks she’s more aware of it there, at eye level as she climbs the steps several times a day. Passing it this way keeps the connection fresh, as with the Anne books.

All that said, I don’t know what’s become of my own copies of Anne over the years, or whether I even had them with me when I began my jaunts from city to city in my 20s. Books are heavy things to carry. Had they been available, I might have embraced an e-reader in those days when I was happily unsettled.

Although I don’t have my old Anne books, I do remember buying them. Several were purchased on a Maritime holiday we took when I was a child. We went to Anne’s pretend house, the Green Gables tourist attraction in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, and I picked a fern from the Haunted Wood, pasted it into my photo album, and labeled it with swirly handwriting. We went to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace as well, and I remember thinking that it felt sad and old and dead, but that there was something amazing, too, about staring into these roped-off sets, knowing that they had once contained real people living real lives.

"There's such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I'm such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting."

Anne of Green Gables has been around for more than 100 years. The recent Puffin versions of the series have covers illustrated by Lauren Child, who is one of N’s favourite writers, and in a roundabout way (at least in N’s mind), a pen pal. She wrote to Child to tell her how much she loved the Clarice Bean books (see The Worst Worry and A’ll Wright Soon), and fairly soon after, Child’s assistant Alex wrote back to thank her for the letter. N then wrote back to Child and Alex to thank them for the letter, and Alex (who is a little less prompt of a pen pal than N) has just written back to thank N for the letter. To which, yes, N has immediately responded with a thank you, as well as a picture of herself reading Child’s new book, the much anticipated Ruby Redfort.

"Dear Lauren and Alex. I'm extreamley exitid to read the Ruby Redfort books. Yes, I have enjoyed my summer. Holidays whent well....."

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The worst worry

"One thing I do know is, the more you worry, the more worries there are, and just when you get used to things, they change."

N recently made a delightful literary discovery by accident. She and her dad went to the library, and she picked Clarice Bean: Don’t Look Now because of the cover. Clarice, with her wispy hair and sideways glance and little squiggle of a nose, looks startlingly like another of English author Lauren Child’s creations, Lola, of the Charlie & Lola series (great picture books and also a very sweet TV show about a big brother caring for his wildly imaginative little sister). N didn’t realize this was a different book altogether.

Don’t Look Now is actually the third in a series of novels, after Utterly Me and Spells Trouble, and we loved it so much that we bought the set. To N’s delight, the books come in a little box. (She often loves the packaging as much as the stuff it contains.) There are few illustrations, but the ones that are there made me miss my old Spirograph.

Night after night, we’ve stayed up late reading these books. As Clarice might say, each one is an utterly and exceptionordinarily good read. The main character, Clarice Bean Tuesday, is a bright spark of a girl with a brimming imagination and a best friend named Betty Moody.

Both Betty and Clarice are obsessed with a series of books about a brilliant girl detective named Ruby Redfort. (N kept asking if the Ruby Redfort books were real, and I kept telling her no, they’re a story within a story, but apparently Child has indeed been commissioned to write a Ruby series.)

Betty is great in school and never gets in trouble, but Clarice’s mind wanders. And her teacher, Mrs. Wilberton, is mean — not a good combination.

More than any other children’s books I’ve read, these ones took me back to the complexities of the child’s perspective — how kids work so hard to put what they learn into context, and thereby grasp the meanings of everything from ordinary to terrifying occurrences. And how there are so many things that aren’t pindownable. For instance, Clarice wonders Why isn’t why spelled y? And why isn’t you spelled u? And she’s alarmed by the notion of infinity.

But it isn’t her worst worry.

Clarice is devastated to discover that “the worst worry in the world, the worry you never even thought to worry about,” is much worse than moving house, or the fact that you can see into the kitchen from a hole in the bathroom floor. In fact her worst worry is so bad, she can’t even bring herself to write it down in her list of worries, because seeing it in writing somehow makes it more real.

These books are funny, surprising, and also touching. Each one has a steady plot that kept us rushing through, but also so many threads running this way and that, that we never lost interest. In the final book, the best of the three, the scene in which Clarice learns Betty is moving away almost brought me to tears, and N, beside me, was riveted. Kudos to Lauren Child for creating a character who stands tall beside the likes of Pippi Longstocking and Anne of Green Gables.

“How does she draw flowers like that, Mom? I wish I could.”

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