16 July 2010

A Gathering of Days

A Gathering of Days by Joan W. Blos is a book I never heard of until I hunted down the list of Newbery Award winners for my project.  An imagined diary written by a young teen girl in early-nineteenth century New Hampshire?  It won the Newbery in 1980, so I should have run across this as a child, but it was never put forth as something I should read.

I loved this book.  I'm pretty sure I would have loved this book as a child, too, because it fits with my Laura Ingalls Wilder and Caddie Woodlawn interest (I have no idea how many times I read the "Little House" books).  The structure of the "diary" makes it very easy to read and Blos introduces many themes that are only tangentially touched on by Caddie and Laura: the loss of a parent, the loss of a close friend, slavery.  However, there are many similarities: school lessons, learning to quilt, caring for the household, trading for household goods in the "big city".  Catherine has a very real voice - she doesn't sound like an adult stuffed into an adolescent character.

Catherine's age-appropriateness is important because Blos made the language structure authentic to the time-period.  It sounds a little like a Jane Austen novel in that the sentences are formally structured.  Now, I, having posted a rant about why Austen, Bronte, and etc. are not old English, think it is wonderful that a children's author wrote a historical novel/reconstructed diary that has time-period appropriate language.  It doesn't hurt anyone to read formal English.  Blos also provided an afterword in my edition where she briefly described her research for the book - her work is greatly appreciated because the "reality" of the book wouldn't have felt right without her research.

I wish I'd read this as a child alongside my Laura and Caddie - I would have appreciated it far more for Catherine's story rather than her research or use of language (stupid grown-up brain).

Vocabulary (a long list, since this is a historical novel):
virtues, receipt (as in "recipe"), silhouette, ruefully, sere, lows (as in cow), bound boys, vagrant, teaze, parlours, recruiter, thrashed, foolscap, capacious, satinette, cassimere, simper, abated, divers, ermined, inclement, cyder, trasnpired, nubbly, turpentine, indenture, buttery, plausible, adamant, presume, tinker (as a job type), cyphering, durable, chagrinned, scruples, suffices, exhortation, arable, sirup, contrivance, quirky, foiled, shewed, abcedenarians, bundling, mooning (not that kind), mince (pie), pedlar, dispossess'd, lead plummet, forfeit, chaises, Hessians, traffick, muslins, tansy, comfrey, peaked (as in sick), dimity, loquacious, flouting, bantam, harangueing, contrite, naught, blaspheme

*PS: Catherine knits stockings as does her friend Cassy; Matty, who is seven or eight is learning to knit stockings....so all y'all who think that knitting is that hard it's not, you just need patience

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