Letter FROM THE EDITOR: APRIL 2018

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” – William Shakespeare

BY MARGARET CLAY

April’s temperate weather provides an inviting month to entertain, allowing for flow between indoor and outdoor “rooms” without the restraints of heating and cooling. One of my favorite articles in this issue is “Spontaneous Entertaining,” which takes the stress out of hosting. While it is true that nothing competes with the magic in a party where the hostess pulls out all the stops, not every gathering requires that level of preparation. Why not have a spontaneous get-together? Clear the kids’ stuff off the sofa and have friends over for appetizers and drinks. Sweep the back porch and just invite a small group over to enjoy takeout from a favorite restaurant. For tips on fun, easy hosting, read Muffie Wells’ article on page 58.

The nice weather this month also makes it prime time for events around town. How exciting to see our city developing into such a diverse hot spot for the arts! Check out our article on page 48 to learn more about Columbia’s jazz scene, and you may cancel your trip to New Orleans as there are multiple opportunities most nights of the week to hear the enchanting, sultry strains of the saxophone. The Cayce Beautification Foundation commissioned Wade Geddings to carve a series of woodland creatures out of the deadfall just off the Cayce Riverwalk (featured on page 70). Take an afternoon to meander beside the river and marvel that the magical animals peeping out from behind stumps and through the branches were all carved with a chainsaw.

We are also very excited in this issue to feature young artists behind the camera lens as we publish the next generation of photographers in our first USC student photography contest. Professor of visual communications Van Kornegay challenged his senior portfolio class to study the nuances of photographing Columbia at night. A hearty congratulations to Kristen Clark for her winning photograph of the State House, “State of Reflection,” as well as to the other talented students whose work we are proud to showcase in a photo essay on page 64.

Lastly, be sure to mark your busy calendars for Tuesday, April 24. We will honor our Top Ten 2018 Capital Young Professionals, as well as announce the winner, at a party at Senate’s End, and everyone is invited! Ticket sales benefit the United Way of the Midlands and can be purchased at ColumbiaMetro.com. We look forward to seeing you there!

FROM THE EDITOR: MARCH 2018

Margaret with Doziers

TALL TALES FROM THE TWIN TOWERS

BY MARGARET CLAY

Standing at a full 5 feet 9 inches, I have always considered myself tall. While I have certainly met plenty of women taller, I was nip and tuck with the tallest on my basketball team in high school, and I have often lamented with fellow tall friends the woes of towering above the crowd if we wear heels higher than 2 inches.

That is to say, I considered myself tall until I met the Dozier brothers, appropriately dubbed “the twin towers.” These USC legends left a lasting imprint on Carolina basketball and have made their mark on the Midlands community as well, staying to build their lives here and coach the emerging talent on Columbia’s courts. Towering at 6’11 and 6’9 respectively, Perry and Terry are hard to miss. Apparently, the average doorjamb sits at about 6’8, meaning that every time they enter or exit a room, they must duck. “I hit my head about three times a year,” Perry says with a chuckle. “It’s not so much remembering to duck, it’s when you think you’re clear and come back up under it that can be trouble.”

Perry shares that his girlfriend in college drove a Honda Civic, and in order for him to drive it, he had to recline the seat all the way flat and then sit on the headrest, which was lying on the back seat. “So pretty much, I was sitting in the back row of the car,” he says with a laugh, “and I would look out of the backseat windows. I used to drive a Porsche, and when people would come up to it all impressed and amazed, at first I thought it was because they liked the car. That was not it at all — they wanted to see how I fit into it!”

Growing up, their mother, Paula Dozier, who already had to buy clothes in pairs for her twins, would instead buy pants in sets of four. “She would cut one pair at the knee and then sew most of the legs from the second pair to it,” remembers Terry. This led her to learn to sew so she could then make their own extra-long, custom pants without horizontal seems. “We didn’t have a lot, but we were always proud of what she gave us. She would embroider our names on our clothes so people knew who was who … and so we knew whose was whose!”

Apparently, clothes sharing was not as common between their closets as one would think. Perry was meticulous with his clothes but says that Terry would come home from school and then go out to play football with friends without changing. “And then he would come in and sleep in those same clothes!” he says, shaking his head. It thus comes as no surprise that Perry later moved into the clothing realm professionally and has owned three stores, one of which he still operates, offering custom suits for tall men.

Despite their surface similarities of height and preeminence on the basketball court, Terry shares that they are actually opposites in most ways. Terry has always been more laid back and casual. Perry says that while he considers arriving on time already late, he always had to wake Terry up for school because he was continually running behind.

One way, however, that they are both incredibly similar is their easy laugh and sincere smile. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about two of Columbia’s all-star athletes and leaders through Julie Turner’s article on page 62. I hope you enjoy learning about these two amazing men as well as the other inspiring individuals in this issue.

FROM THE EDITOR: DECEMBER 2017

HOLIDAY RECEIPTS

COOKING THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY

BY MARGARET CLAY

Confession: I have never been a good speller. I struggled at least as much with spelling in fourth grade as I did with chemistry in 10th. One word, among many, that has always perplexed me is the word “receipt.” Why is the “p” silent? Just to add to my confusion is the word “recipe,” which also does not follow any English phonetic rules (if there even are any). Yet, both words sound and look similar to each other.

Upon investigation, it turns out that receipt and recipe used to have the same meaning and derive from the Latin word recipere, which means to receive or take. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1386) contains the first known use of the word receipt and is in reference to a medical prescription formula. The use of receipt as a slip of paper acknowledging the receipt of goods in exchange for an amount of money did not begin until the early 17th century.

The word recipe is first recorded about 15 years after Canterbury Tales in a book on surgery. The imperative form of the original Latin verb meaning “take,” recipe was an injunction and frequently the first word used in a prescription (receipt), followed by the list of ingredients the patient was to consume. An abbreviation in the form of the letter R with a bar through the leg still appears on modern medical prescriptions.

Food and medicine have a long history together, as many of the same ingredients used for food preparation were also key in a physician’s practice. Receipt was first used in a culinary sense in 1716, and recipe was similarly recorded not long after. Recipe has gradually replaced receipt for cooking instructions over the decades since.

Surprisingly, the United States has preserved this original use of “receipt” the longest. Upon digging through old cookbooks for “Heirloom Recipes” on page 54, we came across many old, traditional “receipt” books from Charleston and Savannah. We hope you enjoy this article sharing traditional recipes from families across Columbia and its surrounding cities. Perhaps it will conjure up favorite, or forgotten, memories of your grandmother teaching you her favorite receipts!

From all of us at CMM, a very Merry Christmas and happy holiday season!

FROM THE EDITOR: NOVEMBER 2017

A Cornucopia of Celebration

By Margaret Clay

Although it may not receive its fair share of attention in the commercial holiday madness that starts with Halloween, Thanksgiving remains a favorite for both its time-honored family traditions as well as new ones that celebrate changes that life brings. The culmination of autumn, Thanksgiving ushers in the magic of Christmas as the last colorful leaves fade and the holiday parties and shopping begin.
For many, Thanksgiving is spent with family and friends enjoying beloved, once-a-year recipes. Rarely is a table complete without a sweet potato dish! Read Susan Slack’s article on page 88 for an interesting history of this Southern staple, which dates back to pre-Columbian South America, as well as for new recipes to add to your family’s holiday must-eats.
Another way to spice up the table this year is to explore decorating with dough. Rebecca Walker and Lillian Lippard offer tips and ideas for adding an artistic presentation to your Thanksgiving dishes. Try their suggestions on page 40, and then experiment with some creations of your own.
If you have ever suffered the disappointment in years past of discovering that your carefully baked turkey is bone-dry, read “Et Cetera” on our last page for Muffie Wells’ secrets to delivering a succulent, crowd-pleasing bird from the oven. Or, create a new tradition by serving equally delicious tiny birds locally raised at Manchester Farms. Read more about this amazing quail farm on page 102.
Sometimes family dynamics change, offering an opportunity to create wonderful new ways to celebrate this special holiday. College, work, or marriages can often mean spending Thanksgiving away from home. “Friendsgiving” is ever more an American tradition, both for those celebrating without family, as well as for those who simply want their own fete with friends. Read Anne Postic’s article on page 50 to learn more about this millennial trend. Perhaps it is time to start your own new tradition!
From all of us at CMM, Happy Thanksgiving!

Ex Libris Online: YA Series for Summer Reading

By Margaret Clay

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It is hard to believe that summer is already beginning to wind down when it seems like Memorial Day was only yesterday. Somehow, there is no slowing down the rapid depletion of these slow days. However, the long dog-days of schedule-less freedom are numbered, and that means limited time to finish summer reading logs. Thankfully, if there are still numerous slots to be filled, Young Adult novel series can be a fast and fun way to knock out multiple books while continuing a story that already engages your child. Who knows, you might even add some of these to your own summer reading log!

You may have read about the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series in the June issue, and if those books connected with your child, good news — Rick Riordan’s YA writing is prolific as he has created many other mythology series for voracious young readers. Two of these series expose children to two other major cultural traditions — Egyptian mythology and Norse mythology.

The Kane Chronicles

Like Percy Jackson, the protagonists of “The Kane Chronicles” (siblings Carter and Sadie Kane) alternatively narrate their tale of discovering their divine heritage. Descended from the two pharaohs Narmer and Ramses the Great, these siblings discover that they are powerful magicians who must contend with the Egyptian gods and goddesses, who still interact with the real world despite most people’s oblivion of them. These books sport Riordan’s typical fast-paced, action-driven plot that will keep young readers on the edges of their seats … all while receiving a lesson on Egyptian mythology. Once the trilogy is finished, fans have the delightful opportunity to read Demigods and Magicians — a series of short stories where the worlds of Ancient Greece and Egypt collide when the Kanes meet “Percy Jackson” protagonists Percy and Annabeth. These magic-wielding teens find they must team up in order to defeat an ancient enemy who is mixing Greek and Egyptian magic to ultimately rule the world.

As a middle school teacher, Riordan was inspired to write this series after completing “Percy Jackson” and discovering that the only subject in ancient history that his students enjoyed more than Ancient Greece was Ancient Egypt.

By these books here.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard

In the trilogy “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard,” the titular hero is actually cousins with Annabeth Chase of “Percy Jackson,” thus linking the two series together. In the first book, Magnus discovers that he is the son of the Norse fertility god Frey and is immediately confronted by a fire giant named Surt, who plans to hasten the end of the world by freeing the Fenris Wolf. Magnus must enlist the help of a valkyrie, a dwarf named Blitz, and an elf named Hearth to attempt to foil the giant.

Norse mythology was a major influence in J. R. R. Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth, and LOTR fans will enjoy a deeper acquaintance with the original folklore that inspired that beloved series. The third and final book in Riordan’s newest trilogy will release this fall.

By these books here.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

For the sci-fi lover in your household, have you discovered Douglas Adams’ “trilogy in five parts,” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? The wit in these books is classically British — dry and somewhat sophisticated while playing with the ludicrous — making this series probably best suited for a slightly older child who appreciates this droll type of humor. Arthur Dent finds himself to be the last surviving man from Earth (following the demolition of the planet by a Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass) when he is rescued at the moment of destruction by his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out not to be a human at all. Ford is an alien writer for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and has been researching the planet Earth for the guide for a number of years. Arthur goes on to explore the galaxy with Ford and learns information such as that the planet Earth was just one big experiment set up by lab rats to study humans, how to use a Babel Fish to interpret other galaxy languages, and the ins and outs of Vogon poetry.

The story combines science fiction with the finest tradition of English humor and was originally broadcast as a radio comedy on the BBC in 1978. Its popularity led to later adaptations into novels, comic books, stage shows, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 computer game, and finally a movie in 2005. The Folio Society has published all five books in their usual fine quality, illustrated by Jonathan Burton.

Buy these books here. 

The Borrowers

For the younger reader, he or she can still enjoy British fantasy storytelling in a more traditional manner with “The Borrowers” series. Have you ever wondered what exactly happens to all the safety pins? Factories keep on manufacturing them, yet there is never one handy when most needed. These five books chronicle the adventures of one small family of “borrowers” — little people who live within the walls and beneath the floors and who “borrow” anything within their grasp. They are a very inventive people as they must cleverly construct human homes and lives for themselves using the over-sized goods that people leave lying about.

The big adventures in which these little people continually find themselves are enthralling, and readers will become enamored with Pod, Homily and young Arrietty… and with the rare few children who are lucky enough to make their acquaintance.

By these books here.

 

Ex Libris Online: The Odyssey

Suggestions for Summer Reading

Review: The Odyssey by Homer

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.

He saw the townlands
and learned the minds of many distant men,
and weathered many bitter nights and days
in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only
to save his life, to bring his shipmates home…

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The second oldest piece of surviving Western literature, Homer’s Odyssey exemplifies the timeless power of the written word. Within it lie the seeds of the traditions, atmosphere, and style in today’s literature and art. Its influence on both historic and modern culture in the West cannot be overestimated, with its monstrous creatures living on in a variety of modern guises.

While most people study The Odyssey in high school, I happened to miss it as I changed my allegiance as a Highlander to a Skyhawk; Heathwood scheduled for the 9th grade curriculum while Hammond planned it for the 8th grade. A couple of years ago, I decided to remedy this deficiency and, considering the original poem was composed and preserved in the oral tradition and was thus originally intended to be heard rather than read, I bought a copy on Audible in preparation for a long trip. The rhythm of poetry and the beauty of the descriptions swept me far away to the foreign lands of Ancient Greece, yet the plot was surprisingly relevant. This year, I returned to this classic for a more modern, conventional experience and obtained a physical copy of the text. This Folio Society edition did not disappoint!

Zeus about to loose a lightening bolt at Odysseus’ ship.

Through Robert Fagles’s lyrical translation and Grahame Baker-Smith’s stirring images, I was again enraptured as Odysseus, king of the island of Ithaca, struggled against the monumental supernatural forces to return home to his family. While most people have not faced a succession of fantastical monsters and hazards – from the Lotus Eaters to the Cyclops, the Sirens, and the fearsome crags of Scylla and Charybdis – many can relate to the passionate need to return home and reunite with family against all obstacles … whether separated by war, jobs, or other individual circumstances. Bernard Knox’s introduction to this edition discussing the history, the language, and the nature of Odysseus as a hero was fascinating, and the index in the back listing all the characters was a very handy reference for keeping all the Greek names straight.

Odysseus tied to the mast as the sirens sing.

If you have read Ex Libris in the current June issue on “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” reading The Odyssey is also a wonderful way to follow up with your children on the actual myths surrounding many of the characters in the novel series.

A seminal classical text, The Odyssey certainly remains as essential and as entertaining as it ever was, with Odysseus standing as a refreshingly complex figure, full of cunning and pride.

 

As Memorial Day passes by this week, heralding summer’s official launch, I highly recommend returning to this ancient classic, or experiencing it for the first time, as the perfect commencement to summer reading.

Buy this book here.

Off to the Races

The 47th Annual Marion du Pont Scott Colonial Cup

By Margaret Clay; Photography by Emily Clay

“And they’re off!” As the thundering of hooves stormed by the grandstand, I watched enraptured as horse and rider soared over the jumps in dense clusters before making another dash towards the next fence. It has been many years since I last attended The Carolina Cup Racing Association’s annual Marion du Pont Scott Colonial Cup as a young child, and this year I found out just how much I have been missing.

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Each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, this fabulous steeple chase takes place at the Springdale Race Course in Camden. The first International Steeplechase in America, the Colonial Cup was the richest steeplechase in the country when it began in 1970 with a $100,000 purse, ranking it just behind The Grand Steeplechase of Paris, the richest steeplechase in the world. In the early years, horses from unnamed-6three continents and 10 countries were invited to the race. While the race still attracts talented foreign runners, the horses are now owned by Americans.

The Colonial Cup is also the last steeplechase of the season, making it a very coveted victory as the outcome can often determine the year-end awards. It is additionally the last Grade I stake of the season, so all the undercard races are championships. For spectators, the Springdale Race Course offers a unique panoramic view as the 2 ¾ mile course features an inner loop and an outer loop design. No portion of the course is repeated; all 18 fences are jumped a single time.

unnamed-8We at Columbia Metropolitan were honored to be the Post & Paddock Tent sponsor at this year’s event. Our tent looked out on the paddock where the horses warmed up before the races and where the jockeys mounted before filing out onto the race track. We also participated in the Post & Paddock Shoppes where the likes of Orvis, Barbour, Dubarry of Ireland and Alan Flusser also had booths.

unnamed-9Our first stop of the morning was to check out the infield festival events—namely, the terrier races, the whippet races and the falconry demonstration. I had never watched a dog races before and was delighted at the Jack Russells running their hearts out to catch the rapidly retracting lure. Similarly, the whippets dashed after a lure with such a thundering of their tiny, graceful feet that I would have hardly thought possible. There was also a Novemberfest micro-brew tent, mule carriage rides and fox hound puppies for cuddling by The Camden Hunt Club.

unnamed-3The first of the seven races had an 11:30 post time, and we enjoyed watching the paddock as the grand, sleek animals paraded by, making guesses as to who the victor might be. Each race was about 30 to 45 minutes apart and was announced by the unmistakable trumpeting of the race’s start, at which point we progressed over to the grandstand. In the between time, we feasted on the delicious food and drinks in the Post & Paddock Tent and enjoyed catching up with the many familiar faces also attending the races. The weather was sunny with a refreshing breeze, and everyone looked fabulous in their country fall attire.

unnamed-5Emily Clay, my mother, and I were honored to present the trophy in the winner’s circle of the third race, the Raymond G. Woolfe Memorial with a $25,000 purse, run in honor of Marion du Pont Scott’s trainer of many years as well as the longtime manager of Springdale Race Course. Invocation, a French Horse, was the winner, trained by Joe Davies and ridden by Patty Young, who was last year’s Champion Jockey. We presented a silver engraved tray, as well as a bottle of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, engraved with race’s name, to Straylight Racing, LLC – the proud owners of Invocation.unnamed-7

Our calendars are already marked for next November, but before then we look forward to returning to the Springdale Race Course for the much anticipated Carolina Cup on April 1st!

How to Carve a Pumpkin

By Margaret Clay

People have been carving jack-o’-lanterns for centuries, but not always from pumpkins. The tradition originates from the Irish legend about “Stingy Jack” who cheated the Devil twice and got away with it. According to legend, Stingy Jack asked the Devil to drink with him. True to his appellation, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his beverage, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy both of their drinks. Once the Devil complied, Jack decided to forgo the drink and keep the money, and, putting it into his pocket next to a silver cross, he prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack finally released the Devil under the condition that he would leave Jack alone for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. When the Devil returned after a year was up, Jack again tricked him into climbing into a tree for some fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the side of the tree so that he could not come down until he promised not to bother Jack for ten more years.

jack-o-lanternHowever, when he died shortly after, the Devil wouldn’t let him into hell, and God wouldn’t let him into heaven. Thus his soul was doomed to roam the earth with only a burning coal to light his way, which he placed into a carved-out turnip. This transient ghostly figure became known as “Jack of the Lantern.”

All over the United Kingdom, people began crafting their own versions of Jack’s lantern by carving intimidating faces into turnips, beets or potatoes and placing them into windows and doorways to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. Irish, Scottish and English immigrants brought the tradition to America in the 19th century where they discovered that pumpkins, a native fruit was perfect for the task. In today’s era, the best way to carve a pumpkin is to first go with family or friends to pick out the best looking pumpkin in the patch.

pumpkin-carvingYou will need:

  • A pumpkin
  • A big spoon, preferably metal with a bit of an edge, or a fleshing tool
  • A design
  • A sharpie or an awl
  • A set of saws of varying sizes: at least one large one (a big serrated knife will also do) and one small one for the more intricate aspects of carving the design.
  • A votive candle, an electric candle or a string of lights and a jar

pumpkin-lid1. First, hollow out the pumpkin by cutting a hole in the top around the stem with your keyhole saw or serrated knife. If you plan on using an electric light instead of a candle, cut the hole in the bottom or on the back side so you can hide the cord.

2. Use a big spoon, plastic scraper or pumpkin-seeds-201098_960_720fleshing tool to scoop out all of the flesh, seeds and pulp. Instead of just throwing it away, look up recipes on roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin puree, pumpkin butter and more!

3. Grab your printed pumpkin design (there are plenty of options online), or an artistic friend. la102021_1006_trace03_vertGet creative! While the toothy, jack-o’-lantern grin is a classic, don’t be afraid to branch out into other fun designs and faces. To transfer a design onto the pumpkin, affix it to the pumpkin and trace the design by poking holes with a sharp awl, needle tool, or even a thumb tack. If you have an artist friend, have them draw it directly on the pumpkin with a sharpie… just make sure that all of the positive space connects!

4. Remove the paper and carve along the pattern with a miniature saw or linoleum carving tool.drill-pumpkins4 You can also use a drill with a 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch spade bit if you want to make holes in the pumpkin for eyes, or if you are going for a polka-dot design!

5. Lastly, wait for dark and then light your pumpkin! If using a votive candle, put it in a high-sided glass, and never leave it unattended. It is recommended to either cut a hole in the back of the pumpkin for ventilation or leave the top off. unnamed-2Battery-operated candles are another good alternative, or you can wrap a strand of 20 or so white lights around a glass jar. Secure the wires with tape, cut a hole in the hollowed-out pumpkin for the cord and place jar inside. Just remember to unplug lights before going to sleep.

Trick-or-treat! 🙂

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Ex Libris Online: Children’s Classics

Review: Norton Annotated Editions

ex Libris MC (2)With Labor Day now practically a distant memory and September already drawing to a close, the lazy days of summer are long gone. However, the pleasurable reading that accompanies these leisurely days does not have to end… for you or the kids. These four Victorian/Edwardian children’s classics published by W.W. Norton & Co. offer both a pleasurable reading experience and an educational opportunity for literature enthusiasts of any age. Whether you read a chapter a night to your children and indulge in the extra content on the side yourself, or whether your readers are old enough to peruse these volumes on their own, these timeless classics are must-reads for anyone who has never experienced them, and for those who have already lived their enchanting stories, rereading them is like returning to a favorite vacation retreat. These lovely volumes add additional interest through their informative introductions from leading literary experts, their beautiful full-color illustrations from various artists across the ages, and their insightful annotations in the wide margins of the page alongside the story, offering the reader explanations of cultural connotations and innuendos, extra tidbits such as recipes, and biographical parallels of the story and the author.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, 1865

Annotated Alice_mech 4p_r1.inddOn an afternoon in 1862, the English mathematician and reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson took his rowboat out on the Thames with the three young Liddell sisters. This outing was one of many, and Dodgson, known better to us by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, often made up fairy tales for the girls. On this particular afternoon, 10-year-old Alice was especially engaged with his story and implored him to write it down for her. Carroll recalled, “In a desperate attempt to strike out some new line of fairy-lore, I had sent my heroine straight down a rabbit-hole, to begin with, without the least idea what was to happen afterwards.” It can certainly be said that the “afterwards” made history. After completing the novel, Carroll had it examined by other children, including those of renowned Scottish author George MacDonald, a key mentor to C. S. Lewis, before submitting it for publication.

This 150th anniversary deluxe edition is a must-have for every Alice enthusiast as it compiles more than 50 years of scholarship by leading Carrollian experts as well as a plethora of illustrations as beautiful, fanciful and, at times, disturbing as the story itself. In his introduction, Martin Gardner writes, “No other books written for children are in need of more explication than the Alice books. Much of their wit is interwoven with Victorian events and customs unfamiliar to American readers today, and even to readers in England. Many jokes in the book could be appreciated only by Oxford residents, and others were private jokes intended solely for Alice.”

Buy this book here.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, 1868

9780393072198_300Louisa May Alcott never planned on writing a “girls’ book,” citing to her editor that she knew nothing about them. Thankfully he thought differently, and her growing up as one of four sisters proved to be ample knowledge and experience for penning such a novel. In writing the first couple of chapters, she journaled, “I plod away, though I don’t enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls, or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it.” However, when her editor’s niece found the first dozen chapters to be enthralling, Alcott flung herself into a creative vortex and finished the 402-page manuscript two weeks later. This was first published as Little Women and is now known as Part First. It was a publishing sensation, and Alcott began to again work feverishly on a sequel, which is now Part Second.

Unlike other children’s classics of the time, like Peter Pan, for example, Little Women is not a story about running away and having an adventure void of parents. In his introduction, John Matteson writes, “Little Women succeeds because it reveals the value of the family, by celebrating the blessings that occur when family members surmount their differences and learn to love and support one another… The book retains its importance in part because it recognizes that many of our most potent enemies lie within us and that life is far more likely to call on us to vanquish our vanity, selfishness, or ill temper than to battle actual evil wizards and slay physical dragons… Even at the outset of writing Little Women, Alcott sensed that a novel deserved to be taken no less seriously because it happened to be written for younger readers.”

Buy this book here.

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, 1908

9780393057744_300When Kenneth Grahame first published The Wind in the Willows, a novel begun as a bedtime story to his son, Alastair, and refined over a series of letters to him, it was an instant bestseller. This will hardly come as any surprise to lovers of this classic tale of anthropomorphized British animals traveling about the countryside. The adventures of Mole, Rat, Toad, Badger, Otter and the rest most notably include rowboats and racecars, but overlying it all is the core theme of true friendship.

In his introduction, Brian Jacques, author of the popular Redwall series, writes “Fie upon those dullards who scorn anthropomorphic animals, a plague upon their houses, say I! Kenneth Grahame (stout fellow) never had any qualms about mixing animals with humankind…Sometimes, when on a country ramble, I’ll linger beside a tranquil lake or woodland stream, picturing Willow scenes musically. Two small animals, taking their ease in the little blue and white boat, with not a care in their world, apart from the best spot to put in for a picnic. I know that later, when twilight falls, that same small boat, with our friends in it, will be bound homeward, with maybe a twinkling lantern on the stern, drifting into the sun’s last crimson rays.”

Buy this book here.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1910

9780393060294_300“I believe, of course, in magic. Magic is the bringing about of unbelievable things through an obstinate faith that nothing is too good to be true, and many things are to idiotically bad to be able to stand up on their own feet of you charge right at them laughing aloud and with your lance in rest.” With such sentiment, it is no surprise that Burnett was a successful writer of children’s novels. However, she does not sugar-coat life in her stories for her young readers; rather it is through overcoming deep hardships, hardships that many children can relate to all too well, that her characters experience sparks of magic.

The renowned plot of The Secret Garden opens with 10-year-old Mary Lennox moving to Misselthwaite Manor from India as a spoiled, feeble, disagreeable and unloved orphan. Her socialite British parents had left her care to servants, who appeased her as much as possible to keep her out of her parents’ way. It is through the discovery of and caring for an abandoned garden on the estate as well as her invalid cousin that Mary is able to grow into a flourishing, happy child. As well-known as the story is, Burnett does indeed manage to strike the stroke of magic in the minds of her readers with every rereading of this classic tale.

Buy this book here.