“Life’s a Journey,” an endless tromp through a maze of experiences — some mountaintop-high, some fog-valley low. Along the way we grow and blossom, like bulbs exposed to spring’s lengthening light. This month Newsbee’s hive Picks highlight characters who sprout wings and become stronger through their astounding, exciting and sometimes perilous journeys.
“Miss Rumphius,” is a much-loved picture book by Barbara Cooney about a little girl who realizes her life’s dreams. Its message is as meaningful today as when it was first published in 1982.
As a child, Alice spends quality time with her seafaring grandfather, a sailor turned artist. It’s Alice’s job to help him “put in the skies,” paint fluffy clouds on shades of pastel blue. Like her grandfather, Alice hopes to travel and then settle down, when she’s old and rickety, in a lovely spot by the sea. While her grandfather thinks that is all well and good, he reminds her she must also “ . . . do something to make the world more beautiful.”
Alice grows into a lady known as Miss Rumphius. Life takes her to the four corners of the world, to exotic countries, and finally back to the sea. There Miss Rumphius lives out her days and succeeds in making the world a more beautiful place — as Barbara Cooney has with this lovely picture book.
A great-grandfather passes along his life’s memories and mementoes in “The Matchbook Diary,” a stunning book by Paul Fleischmann. Gorgeously illustrated by Batram Ignotille, it features pictures of art-museum quality.
An elderly gent welcomes his great-granddaughter into a room full of keepsakes, “Choose one, and I’ll tell you about it,” the man tells the child. Curious, the little girl selects some old matchboxes, not knowing that each holds a tiny treasure with a story to go along with it, objects that detail her great-grandfather’s experiences as a child and his immigration to America.
Nestled in the first matchbox is an olive pit, a tiny reminder of the times he went hungry in the old country. In the second matchbook there’s a crinkled photo of his father who went to America to work and then sent money home.
As the little girl opens each matchbox, her great-grandfather’s life is revealed. In the most unique of ways, his history comes alive in her eyes — and in ours too.
Let the adventures begin. “Navigating Early” by Clare Vanderpool is a mystifying tale of wonder. It’s a long way from Kansas to Maine, but Maine is where 13-year-old Jack Baker lands during World War II, in a military school where he knows no one. Feeling outcast and cast about, Jack meets Early Auden, “the strangest of boys,” a solitary student with a passion for Pi, obscure facts and an obsession to find his brother, a war hero lost in France.
Jack is haunted by his own losses. His relationship with his father is distant because he’s always been away, serving in the military. When Jack’s mother dies unexpectedly, his dad enrolls him in the Morton Hill Academy for Boys. There Jack fails miserably at everything, including the rowing competition, until Early Auden takes him under his wing.
Early’s behavior and personality puzzle Jack, but the two become friends and, like modern day Huckleberry Finns, embark on a river trip fraught with bears, crazy old ladies, rattlesnakes, pirates and tales of Pi.
All the narrative’s threads come together at the end of this novel, a real work of genius, that provides hours of pleasure and “ . . . miracles by the boatload.”