RALPLH MOODY’S “LITTLE BRITCHES” [OR “THE WILD COUNTRY”]

BLOG #44, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #35

RALPH MOODY’S LITTLE BRITCHES [OR THE WILD COUNTRY]

October 29, 2014

If you’ve been searching for a wonderful true book to read aloud to your children and teenagers during your daily story hour, search no longer: This is your book.

I was a teenager when I first read the book—and it has warmed my heart ever since. It is one of those rare books written in First Person that really works. Just as is true with The Little House on the Prairie books, once you’ve read the first book in the series, you’ll rush out to buy the sequel, and then the rest of the series.

The real-life story of the author is almost as fascinating as the book.

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Ralph Owen Moody (1898-1982) was born in East Rochester, New Hampshire. When he was eight, his parents moved the family to Colorado so that Ralph’s father might, in the dry climate of the Front Range, be healed from tuberculosis. In those days, thousands of tuberculosis-sufferers moved to Colorado and sister states in hopes they’d be healed by the move. Many were, but many were not. One of Ralph’s uncles told his brother that ranch life in Colorado was so heaven-like that he’d hardly have to work at all to get rich. You’ll note by a book illustration that the reality was far different.

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The shack they moved to

Three years later, Ralph’s father died, and the eleven-year-old boy was forced to become man of the house, the mainstay of his mother and siblings.

But, even though the boy had yearned to be a writer almost as soon as he learned to read, the tough business of making a living and, marrying his sweetheart Edna, precluded that. In fact, he was fifty years old when, in helping a daughter with a high school writing class, he honed his own craft. Upon reading his first story, his teacher suggested he expand it into a full-length book.

Because Moody had grown up listening to his mother read out loud to him and his siblings, when he had the opportunity to tell his life story, he avoided formal writing and instead just told the story in common everyday language that children would both understand and appreciate. Little Britches (what he was dubbed after his boyhood arrival in Colorado) was published in 1950. In that serene Norman Rockwell Era of strong family values, Little Britches took the country by storm.

After his father’s farm had failed, he moved his family to Littleton, and shortly afterwards his father died of pneumonia. In Man of the Family (1951) and The Home Ranch (1956), Moody tells the story of those action-filled Colorado years. Mrs. Moody subsequently took her three sons and three daughters back to Medford, Massachusetts where Ralph completed his formal education through the eighth grade. This part of his story was published in Mary Emma and Company in 1961. Later on, Ralph joined his grandfather on his farm in Maine. This period was covered in The Fields of Home in 1953. In Shaking the Nickel Bush (1962), poor health results in Ralph moving west again in the midst of the Great Depression. Tough times are covered in The Dry Divide (1963) and the concluding eighth book of his life story, Horse of a Different Color (1968). When he was 83, he returned home to New England; he died there on June 28, 1982.

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The family in midst of a tornado.

But not before chronicling one of the most gripping, moving, and inspirational autobiographies ever written. By the time you finish reading it to your family, none of you will ever be the same you were when you began.

Moody also published nine other books: Kit Carson and the Wild Frontier (1955), Geronimo, Wolf of the War Path (1958), Riders of the Pony Express (1958), Wells Fargo (1961), Silver and Lead: The Birth and Death of a Mining Town (1961), America Horses (1962), Come on Sea Biscuit (1963), The Old Trails West (1963), Stage Coach West (1967) and one play: The Valley of the Moon (1966).

There are many editions of Little Britches and its sequels. Most were published by W. W. Norton. They were also published by Reader’s Digest; People’s Book Club; Harcourt, Brace & World; and in paperback by Bantam.

Walt Disney Productions (released by Buena Vista Distribution) filmed Little Britches as The Wild Country in 1970. It starred Steve Forrest. Jack Elam, and Ronny Howard; co-starred Frank deKova, Morgan Woodward, and Vera Miles. The screen play was written by Calvin Clements, Jr., and Paul Savage; produced by Ron Miller, and directed by Robert Totten. In 1971, Bantam published Little Britches as The Wild Country.

Happy reading to you and your family!

Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month – Johanna Spyri’s “Heidi”

BLOG #31, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #32
JOHANNA SPYRI’S HEIDI
July 30, 2014

I’ve thought long and hard about the book you’ll be reading in August. In the calendar of the year, August is one of those rare in-between months, a time to veg out, get away, go to the beach or mountains, take a cruise, regenerate–for September, life-gets-back-to-normal–
September looms up at the end of August. But, please, we grouse, not yet, not yet.

Undoubtedly, you’ve noticed by how that my Book of the Month selections don’t fit into any book club mold you’ve ever encountered anywhere else. Much more eclectic, for starters. And less academic than you’d expect from a college English professor. In truth, it has taken me this long to arrive at a clear picture of what the Series template is likely to be. I can now tell you how I perceive it: It is neither more nor less than a library of much-loved books that, had you read no more than those chosen you’d still feel your life had been enriched in ways past quantifying. For they are–most of them–books you’ll want to return to again and again. Some, just to have read them once will be enough. Hopefully, you’ll want to keep all the selections together in one part of your library.

But for the August selection, I am returning to one of the most beloved family books of all time. It has been translated into over 50 languages; it has sold over 50,000,000 copies, and has been filmed over a dozen times. As is true with every book children love, adults cherish it every bit as much. Of course, I’m referring to Heidi.

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[Jessie Willcox Smith’s wondrous cover painting for the McKay edition]

It was with some trepidation that I scanned the Spyri section of my library for the Heidi edition I’d re-read before writing this blog. Would it be the Airmont paperback edition or the rare Pocket Book 1940 First printing? The John C. Winston edition, with four lovely Clara M. Burd illustrations in color? Or would it be the 1922 David McKay edition with ten stunning illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith? It was a no-brainer! It is no wonder that the asking price of any magazine cover that features Smith’s inimitable children has reached the stratosphere where dwells the likes of Maxfield Parrish, Rose Cecil O’Neill, Howard Pyle, and Elizabeth Shippen Green. If you can land a fine copy, ignore the price, and grab it before it’s sold to someone else.

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But whatever you do, don’t be satisfied with anything less than the complete unabridged text. In recent years, it has become acceptable in certain circles to strip all positive references to spiritual things from classic books. This is true also of Heidi books. And glaringly, in Heidi movies.

What I discovered in my re-read was that it is a profoundly spiritual book. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Johanna Spyri, neé Hausser (1829-1901), a writer whose story for children, Heidi, is known all over the world. Her psychological insight into the child mind, her humor, and her ability to enter into childish joys and sorrows give her books attraction and lasting value. After her marriage in 1852 to Bernhard Spyri, a lawyer engaged in editorial work, she moved to Zurich. Her love of homeland, feeling for nature, unobtrusive piety, and cheerful wisdom gave both her work and her life their unique quality.”
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Adeline B. Zachert, in her most insightful introduction to the 1927 John C. Winston edition of Heidi, noted that “Character grows from ideals. It is caught by contagion. One may catch it from one’s companions; children often learn of it from the friends who live within the covers of their story books; these characters become the companions of their thoughts. They become real; they live and act in the imagination of children, and often exert a greater influence than do the flesh-and-blood associates with whom they daily come in contact.” Ms. Zachert (then head librarian for the state of Pennsylvania) pointed out that a child’s first response to a book generally depends on its outward appearance (color and texture of the binding, the decoration and imagery on the cover, and especially splendid color depictions of paintings by artists who know how to capture the essence of a character or setting). But after the first impressions, it is the power of the story itself that take it from there.

Other books written by Spyri include Cornelli, Moni the Goat Boy, Children of the Alps, Stories of Swiss Children, Heidi Grows Up (always popuolar), Mazli, Uncle Titus in the Country, Toni the Little Wood-Carver, Heidi’s Children, Erick and Sally, Gritli’s Children, The Story of Rico, Rico and Wiseli, Veronica and Other Friends, and What Sarni Sings with the Birds.

CONCLUSION

So, don’t delay, if there are children in your vicinity, read Heidi out loud to them, or take turns reading it out loud; if there are no children around, read it to yourself. You’ll be surprised at how much you will revel in the story, and the insights you’ll gain from immersing yourself in this timeless book. If you see a film version of the story, only do so after you’ve read the book! Otherwise you deprive yourself and your listeners of the once-in-a-lifetime experience of creating mental images uniquely your own.

 

Book Readers Weigh In – Part 2

BLOG #4, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BOOK READERS WEIGH IN
Part Two
January 22, 2014

Last week, I shared with you some of the responses that have come in on the subject of Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club. This week I’ll share a few more; then on the 29th we’ll begin a new year of book of the month reading suggestions.

Some readers relay or share the book blogs with others, such as this one:

Please add ________ to your author book blog. I have been forwarding some of your book reviews to her. Like me, she is over 69 and enjoys great literature. I find your reviews stimulating and educational.
–Laura T.

Others admit to being extremely selective/picky about which ones they read, such as this very short response:

My favorites: The Calling of Dan Matthews and Penrod. I always glance over your weekly blog, probably read half.
–Jane A.

Some readers, such as this one, search for bargains:

Just discovered that Kindle offers several of the book club choices for free. I’m looking forward to reading each one! Thank you for encouraging me to read great stories by authors whom I had never met before. I’m thinking specifically of Zane Grey.
–Kay P.

A number of responders are members of our Zane Grey’s West Society, such as this one:

The only one I read from your list, was the Walden Book. I then read the Victor Friesen book about Thoreau which I had bought at the Gold Beach convention. Of course, I have read all the Zane Grey books, Purple Sage twice. I read a lot and am now reading the Ellen Meloy books.
–Kathleen K

Others, such as this one, read mainly the ones that are readily accessible to them:

I read all the blogs you send out with interest but since I don’t have all the books you recommend, I am not able to read all of the books.
–Marilyn N.

I shall close with a very special response, special in that she makes additional suggestions re books that are meaningful to her:

I just wanted to let you know that I do read your posts faithfully and have sought out a few of the books you’ve mentioned. I’m happy to report that I’ve already read many of them! Is there any joy so great as the joy of reading????
I typically read 4-6 books a week, depending on the book and the week. I’m currently reading World Without End (1000+ pages, set in Kingsbridge, England in the 1300s) by Ken Follett. It is a sequel to Pillars of the Earth.
Also on my night stand, Border Wars of the Upper Ohio Valley, William Hintzen’s story of Wetzel and the Zanes and the other familiar characters of that time. I’m especially anxious to read it, now that I’ve finished the Betty Zane—Youth Edition and am continuing to work on editing the other two volumes in the Frontier Trilogy for young readers.
If you haven’t already read it, I would strongly recommend The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo. It is the biography of General Alexander Dumas, father to the author. A FABULOUS BOOK that definitely deserves its Pulitzer Prize status. It is meticulously researched and presents a vivid picture of a person who was in all ways LARGER THAN LIFE. A mulatto son of a ne-er-do-well French nobleman and a black slave mother, born in St. Domingue (now Haiti), Dumas was sold into slavery by his father–along with his mother and three younger brothers–when he was about 10, so his father could buy ship’s passage back to France. Dumas was later bought back by his father (his siblings and mother were not…) and given a gentleman’s education and privileged life in Paris in the years before the Revolution.
I was struck throughout by the fact that Dumas’ incredible life and insane heroism as a soldier for the Revolution and later for Napoleon, would be too fantastic to be believed if it were merely a novel–which, in a way, it did become through his son’s writing. I was particularly impressed by the way Tom Reiss, author of The Black Count, brought to life that time in history in the telling of the Count’s story. If you haven’t read the book, it is DEFINITELY worth doing.
How I wish we could get children to lay down their electronic gizmos and pick up a book, which can take them where no noisy piece of equipment with a blinking screen ever can….
–Rosanne V.

All Ye Book-Lovers

BLOG #51, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ALL YE BOOK-LOVERS
LOOKING BACKWARD; LOOKING FORWARD
December 18, 2013

It was a little over two years ago that we launched “Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club.” Since it was voluntary, no-fee, and no one was required to respond, it has been most difficult to know just who has been faithfully (at least most of the time) keeping up. Before introducing Book #26 in 2014, I’d really like to hear back from all of you who have been following along. Let me know which authors, titles, you like best, and why. General reactions to the format too. Anything – just report in. Please? So I can be reassured that these monthly book blogs are meeting a need.

To refresh your memory – if you’ve been following along –, and to enable you to start back at the beginning, if you’ve a mind to, here is a list of our first 25 books of the month. Since I’m providing the dates those entries first appeared, it should be relatively easy for you to retrieve all those earlier entries. Here they are:

PROPOSAL FOR CLUB (October 26, 2011)

BOOKS

1. Williamson, C. M. And A. M., My Friend the Chauffeur (Oct. 19, 2011)
2. Wright, Harold Bell, The Calling of Dan Matthews (Oct. 26, 2011)
3. Dickens, Charles, The Christmas Carol (Nov. 23, 2011)
4. Brown, Abbie Farwell, The Christmas Angel (Nov. 23, 2011)
5. Grey, Zane, Heritage of the Desert (Dec. 28, 2011)
6. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (Jan. 25, 2012)
7. Burnett, Frances Hodgson, Little Lord Fauntleroy (Feb. 29, 2012)
8. Grey, Zane, Wanderer of the Wasteland [ZG #2] (Mar. 28, 2012)
9. Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, Enoch Arden (May 2, 2012)
10. Richmond, Grace, The Twenty-Fourth of June (May 23, 2012)
11. Duncan, Dayton , and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (June 27, 2012)
12. Sheldon, Charles, In His Steps (Aug. 22, 2012)
13. Goudge, Elizabeth, City of Bells (Sept. 26, 2012)
14. Tarkington, Booth, Penrod (Oct. 31, 2012)
15. Douglas, Lloyd C., Home for Christmas (Nov. 28, 2012)
16. Richmond, Grace, Foursquare [GR #2] (Jan. 2, 2013)
17. Hale, Edward Everett, The Man Without a Country (Feb. 6, 2013)
18. Reed, Myrtle, The Master’s Violin (Apr. 3, 2013)
19. Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World, and Brave New World Revisited (May 8, 2013)
20. Grey, Zane, Riders of the Purple Sage [ZG #3] (June 5, 2013)
21. Porter, Gene Stratton, Freckles (July 17, 2013)
22. Hill, Grace Livingston, Happiness Hill (Aug. 21, 2013)
23. Hugo, Vic tor, Les Miserables (Sept. 25, 2013)
24. Knight, Eric, Lassie Come Home (Nov. 6, 2013)
25. Van Dyke, Henry, The Other Wise Man (Dec. 4, 2013)

CONTACT INFORMATION

Please respond to this blog questionnaire [includes those who’d like to join the club right now] via one of the following:

P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433

email: mountainauthor@gmail.com

Looking forward to hearing from you!

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

BLOG #39, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #13
ELIZABETH GOUDGE’S CITY OF BELLS
September 26, 2012

1948 Pocket Book copy of City of Bells

Those of you who love our Christmas in My Heart® stories may remember my recent story, “Message in a Book,” in Christmas in My Heart 20. In it I referenced a passage from Goudge’s City of Bells:

“‘A bookseller,’ said Grandfather, ‘is the link between mind and mind, the feeder of the hungry, very often the binder up of wounds. There he sits, your bookseller, surrounded by a thousand minds all done up neatly in cardboard cases; beautiful minds, courageous minds, strong minds, wise minds, all sorts and conditions. And there come into him other minds, hungry for beauty, for knowledge, for truth, for love, and to the best of his ability he satisfies them all. . . . Yes . . . it’s a great vocation” (City of Bells, p. 95).

* * *

For several evenings running, I’ve been wrestling with a decision: which book should I choose to anchor our second dozen Books of the Month? I’ve been in a reverie, induced by the haunting sight of falling aspen leaves in trees that have once again transformed Conifer Mountain into one heartbreakingly beautiful glow. Made doubly so by the realization that in only days the aspens will stand naked, stripped of their glory, not to be clothed again until spring. As a result, the book decision was colored by my autumnal mood, tinged with the poignant thought, Who that I love may not live to see autumn leaves fall again? Might even I not be there to see them fall?

So the chosen book had to match my mood. Finally, it came down to one author, Elizabeth Goudge, the Christian British writer (1900-1984) who, over the years, has become an integral part of my spiritual and philosophic DNA.

She wrote so few books that it almost broke my heart to read the last of them. Now I can only re-drink at her wells of insight into this thing we call life. She wrote so few because she poured everything in her into each one. It is impossible to merely breeze through a Goudge book, reason being: she’s not just a “good read,” she’s a “great read.” She had to have agonized over each and every sentence before she’d signed off on it with her publisher. So I find myself savoring them more each time I come back to a given book.

And her fictional children! I don’t know how she did it—for I certainly can’t!—, how she somehow retained, as an adult, the incredible gift of still being able to think as a child, to reason as a child, to love as a child.

And it was so difficult for me to choose just one of her romances–treasure chests such as The Dean’s Watch, Green Dolphin Street, Pilgrim’s Inn, Rosemary Tree, The Scent of Water, Towers in the Mist, etc. In the end, however, the one that best matched my mood was City of Bells, for as I read it I could hear and see the bells of Canterbury Cathedral that helped give birth to my Christmas love story, “Evensong.”

After reading City of Bells in March of 1991, I wrote, “I do believe this one is Goudge’s greatest book.” I’ll be most interested in your response to it. I’ll be exceedingly surprised if you don’t immediately become another Goudgeaholic and track down every Goudge book you can lay your hands on!

In America, Goudge was published by Coward-McCann; City of Bells in 1937, Crowell-Collier in 1947, and Pocket Book in 1948. Keep in mind that sometimes the American editions feature alternative titles from the original British editions.

Happy hunting!