I woke up yesterday morning to the public radio station, as usual. Coming awake, I was in time for the international update on the revolution unfolding in Egypt, a story on a play being performed for the American top military brass that gives great insight into the culture and historical perspective on Afghanistan, and then, a short remembrance of the children's author, Brian Jacques who passed away this week in Liverpool, England.
Now certainly I am concerned about international and domestic political affairs, but the news of Mr. Jacques' passing was particularly poignant for me. You see, his Redwall series of books were family favorites for years. I introduced my three children to Matthias, the little mouse protagonist of Redwall, when they were in elementary school. Curled up under the covers on my big double bed, we would read a chapter or two or three or more every night before the childrens' bedtime. From page one, they listened, and I do mean really listened, to all the swash and buckle of that story. I wrapped my tongue around the various names of weasels, stoats, and ferrets, rats, mice, and badgers. I did voice changes and growls, hoots and snarls, and butchered the dialect of the various creatures to bring their characters alive for the kids - and for me.
Look at this book. I took it out yesterday afternoon and began to re-read the first of the Redwall series after I received a post from my eldest daughter, telling me that some of her fondest childhood memories were spent curled on that bed with those stories unfolding and their imaginations running wild over the exploits of those fearless creatures and horrid villians. She, too, had heard the sad news.
The entire series of books came to have a place on the kids' book shelves. Each book became dog-eared from its readers' handling and love. Kate loved them best, though. I read the first two or three aloud to the kids to get their attention and to draw them into the saga and then they took it from there. Many an afternoon and evening were spent with a glass of milk, a plate of cookies, and a good story - the best of stories. Good triumphs over evil, characters make mistakes and are able to correct them, love and compassion are traits that are honored and respected, animals and natural settings are given descriptions that bring imaginations to life, and child readers are never patronized.
If you haven't read this series, consider it. If you have elementary age children who love 'make-believe' play and are ripe to begin reading 'chapter books' on their own, go to the library and read the first couple chapters of Redwall . Check it out, bring it home, and be prepared to enter a very special world. And in the meantime, try the best oatmeal cookies you will ever taste - chewy, full of walnuts, apple bits, and currants. Pour a glass of milk, get a plate of cookies, and settle into the world of Mossflower Wood and Redwall Abbey.
Click the link for the recipe. I don't have it on my hard drive any longer. It's gone to a back up CD that I am too lazy to find.
An excerpt from the beginning of Redwall - Rest in peace, Brian Jacques ... and thanks for the memories!
It was the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. Mossflower country shimmered in a peaceful haze, bathing delicately at each dew-laden dawn, blossoming through high sunny noontides, languishing in each crimson-tinted twilight that heralded the soft darkness of June nights.
Redwall stood foursquare along the marches of the old south border, flanked on two sides by Mossflower Wood's shaded depths. The other half of the Abbey overlooked undulating sweeps of meadowland, its ancient gate facing the long dusty road on the western perimeter.
From above, it resembled some fabulous dusky jewel, fallen between a green mantle of light silk and dark velvet. The first mice had built the Abbey of red sandstone quarried from pits many miles away in the north-east. The Abbey building was covered across its south face by that type of ivy known as Virginia creeper. The onset of autumn would turn the leaves into a cape of fiery hue, thus adding further glory to the name and legend of Redwall Abbey ...