Thanksgiving: Over the River and Through the Wood With Lydia Maria Child

Lydia Maria Francis Child, born February 11, 1802, was an American abolitionist, women’s rights activist, opponent of American expansionism, Indian rights activist, novelist, and a journalist. Despite her many accomplishments and courageous political activities that were way before her time, she is best known today for her poem “”Over the River and Through the Wood” about Thanksgiving.

This song, written originally as a poem and published in 1844, recalls Child’s visits to her grandmother’s on the Thanksgiving holiday. The poem was eventually set to music by an unknown author. (Occasionally lyrics are substituted to make it a Christmas song.)


Lydia Child and her husband first took up the anti-slavery cause in 1831. Child believed women were also held in subjugation by men, but felt the abolition of slavery was the more important cause. Nevertheless, she began campaigning for equal female membership and participation in the American Anti-Slavery Society, an issue which eventually split the movement. (Some anti-slavery societies, it should also be noted, didn’t even admit black members.)

Child had already gained fame as the editor of a periodical for children and as the author of works for women. In 1833 she published a tract “An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans” which not only called for an immediate end to slavery, but insisted that blacks were as much Americans as whites, and “intellectually equal to Europeans.”

In 1839, Child was elected to the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and became editor of the society’s “National Anti-Slavery Standard” in 1841, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to edit a political newspaper. She expanded coverage beyond abolitionist news, and under her direction the subscription list grew to 6,000, more than double that of the famous newspaper “Liberator” edited by William Lloyd Garrison.

Child decided to leave the “National Anti-Slavery Standard” over a dispute about the use of violence as an acceptable weapon for battling slavery (she was against it). Eventually, however, she acknowledged the need for the use of violence to protect anti-slavery emigrants in Kansas and also sympathized with the radical abolitionist John Brown while not condoning his violent methods.

Child in 1870, reading a book

Child in 1870, reading a book

In the meanwhile, she continued to write for many periodicals during the 1840’s, speaking out against slavery and in favor of women’s rights. She also turned to the issue of Native American rights, especially after the Civil War was over, publishing a book anonymously about an interracial marriage between a white woman and a Native American man (not favorably received), and publishing a number of pamphlets on Indian rights. While most people were not much interested in doing much about the Indians except eliminating them, she did change the mind of Peter Cooper, a wealthy and prominent industrialist. Cooper organized the privately funded United States Indian Commission, dedicated to the protection and elevation of Native Americans in the United States and the elimination of warfare in the western territories. His efforts in turn led to the formation of the Board of Indian Commissioners.

Child died in Wayland, Massachusetts, at the age of 78 in October, 1880, only a month before Thanksgiving.

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Review of “Dairy Queen” by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I read this because I kept seeing it on lists like “Favorite Teen Read,” “Teen Recommended,” “ALA Best Books for Young Adults,” etc. And it also had many blurbs saying, in essence, “I loved this book.” And unsurprisingly, I loved it as well.


D.J. (for Darlene Joyce) Schwenk is 15 when the book begins, and she has taken over most of the chores at her family’s farm in Red Bend, Wisconsin, because her older brothers have left home, her mom is working two jobs, and her dad got injured. She has one other brother, but he’s 13, and in any event is in a summer softball league.

D.J.’s dad used to be a football coach for the rival team at Hawley High, where his best friend Jimmy Ott still does the coaching. Jimmy sends his quarterback, Brian Nelson, over to help out at the farm, but Brian thinks the work is too hard, and quits after one day. He only comes back when D.J. agrees to be his personal trainer to help him prepare for the upcoming football season.

The trouble starts, however, when D.J. decides she too wants to play football, for her home team of Red Bend, which is the main rival of Hawley. She doesn’t tell Brian though, because the Schwenk’s aren’t very good at communicating.

Sounds fairly standard, but the character of D.J. is outstanding. She considers herself “poor, stupid, and ugly and just not cool at all” but of course she is none of those things, except poor (but only in terms of money). She’s hilariously funny, smart, courageous, and full of insight about herself and others. As one example evincing all of the above, she talks about how she and her BFF Amber watch the movie “Blue Crush” over and over. She explains:

“It’s a movie about three girls who are a lot like us except they live in Hawaii and don’t have any parents and they date professional football players and surf all the time. And they’re thin. So you can see that the similarities are overwhelming.”

Evaluation: I laughed out loud often while reading this charming coming-of-age story. The author has written some follow-up books and I can’t wait to read them.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Graphia, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

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Review of “The Rose Garden” by Susanna Kearsley

Eva Ward is only in her late twenties, but she has just lost her older sister Katrina, and decides to take her ashes from California to scatter in Polgelly, Cornwall, near Trelowarth House where they spent many happy years of their childhood. The Halletts, her old family friends, welcome her back to her old room, and Mark, who was Katrina’s first boyfriend, helps her scatter the ashes. Unfortunately, as Eva discovers, the Halletts are unable to pay to keep up the house for much longer. Mark grows roses for the family business, but it isn’t very lucrative; his sister Susan is considering opening a tea room which will also help boost their income. Their artist stepmother Claire lives in a cottage on the estate, and Eva conspires with her to put some of Katrina’s money into an account to help save Trelowarth for the Halletts.

rose garden us2

Eva, who did PR for her sister, also helps by taking on the job of PR for the tearoom. She wants to capitalize on the fact that Polgelly used to be a smuggling center during Jacobite times. The author based Polgelly on the actual town of Polperro. As the town’s website explains:

“Wending your way through the traffic-free streets to the small harbour, you’re treading the paths where barrows of fish were once carted and, under cover of night, brandy casks and tobacco bales were carried into their hideouts. Make no mistake, this peaceful fishing cove, mellow Polperro, was once a thriving centre for the area’s smuggling.

Wagonloads of contraband left here, some heading across Bodmin Moor en route to London. The ‘freetraders’ have long since sailed into folk history and the shining shoals of pilchards have gone, but a visit to the smuggling museum brings this rich heritage back to life.”

Polperro today

Polperro today

But smuggling isn’t the only distinction of this area of Cornwall. One of the most famous ley-lines in the world runs across England from the tip of Cornwall to the Eastern tip of Norfolk on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. (Ley-lines are geographical trackways that supposedly have mystical properties.) The close location of the ley-line is used by Kearsley to explain in part the fact that Eva finds herself traveling back and forth 300 years, to a time when the smuggling Butler Brothers, Daniel and Jack, lived at Trelowarth. Jack is away when Eva first “arrives,” but she meets Daniel and his best friend Fergal O’Cleary, who live at the house and together with Jack, conduct the smuggling operations. Daniel and Fergal seem to accept readily who and what Eva is, and they help conceal her identity from everyone else as she comes and goes in and out of their lives.


Eventually, Eva finds herself falling in love with Daniel, but how could it possibly work when they are separated by 300 years? Kearsley’s solution requires a leap of faith, but then, the whole premise of her book does anyway.

Evaluation: Kearsley’s books aren’t all that different from one another, but if you like one, you’ll no doubt like them all. The history is good, the characters are appealing, and the romance is always gratifying. With this book, I enjoyed learning more about Cornwall, and the role it played in smuggling and in the Jacobite rebellion.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc., 2011

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Kid Lit Review of “Balloons Over Broadway” by Melissa Sweet

Kids who love the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade will enjoy this history of the parade, especially because of the outstanding artwork by author/illustrator Melissa Sweet.


When the parade started in 1924, it was planned by Tony Sarg, who designed puppets for the store’s holiday windows. The parade featured employees in costume, horse-drawn floats, and animals from New York’s Central Park Zoo. But the animals roared and growled and frightened the children, so Macy’s asked Tony to come up with something spectacular but less threatening to replace the animals.

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Tony contacted a company that made blimps, and asked for help making giant puppets that looked like animals. The creatures were a roaring success, and Tony kept improving them, so that eventually, they had moveable parts and were more balloon-like and could rise in the air. The giant balloon animals now gestured and articulated high overhead so everyone could see, and the crowds loved them!


On the last page, Sweet adds a tribute to Sarg:

Tony Sarg – the puppeteer who loved to figure out how to make things move – had set the stage, with a little rigging, for a puppet to be anything anyone could imagine it to be.”

An Author’s Note at the end provides more background on Sarg and on the parades.


For the art in the book, Melissa Sweet used gouache, collage, and mixed media. The collages, as she explains at the end, are a mix of papier-mâché puppets, found objects, actual toys (including some Sweet made for the book) and fabrics, all painted or changed to reflect the world of Tony Sarg.

A bibliography and list of sources completes the book.


Evaluation: Be sure to include this book for your kids’ Thanksgiving activities!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2011

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Review of “Coloring Ocean Mandalas” by Wendy Piersall

A mandala (Sanskrit for circle) is a symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism that represents the universe. Mandalas are employed for meditation, by focusing one’s total attention on the mandala (as opposed to say, one’s to-do list of chores). Many people believe that creating (or by extension, coloring) mandalas helps stabilize, integrate, and re-order one’s inner life.

In keeping with the worldwide adult coloring book craze, this latest offering from Wendy Piersall features a collection of thirty hand-drawn outlines of mandalas focused on nautical-themed quotes and images, including designs of seashells, mermaids, turtles, and sea horses.


Piersall also has created similar books featuring mandalas featuring animals, flowers, and the dream world.

This particular one is great because, if you’ve ever been to an aquarium like the outstanding Monterey Aquarium in California, you will know there is little more relaxing than watching a tankful of jellyfish or undulating anemones.


In fact, human beings find water itself soothing, and so by extension, anything associated with water. Wallace Nichols, author of the 2014 book Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do writes about our relationship with water, calling it “Blue Mind,” which he defines as:

“. . . a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. It is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the color blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion. It takes advantage of neurological connections formed over millennia, many such brain patterns and preferences being discovered only now, thanks to innovative scientists and cutting-edge technology.”

Clearly, as with her other books, Piersall has a knack for tapping into ideas that promote relaxation and a “zone” of mindful/mindlessness.

You can really go wild with markers for this book, because the colors of the ocean are pretty amazing.


Evaluation: This book would make a great present for yourself or others. Throw some colored pencils or markers into the gift box! Another bonus: for a relaxing activity, it’s way easier than a lot of others (such as making lanyards: I tried this and totally failed in spite of watching numerous videos on youtube. Coloring, however, I can do.)

Published by Ulysses Press, 2015


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Review of “Six Impossible Things” by Fiona Wood

Australian YA fiction is so regularly superior that I pounced when I saw that this 2010 book by Fiona Wood had been re-published in the U.S.


The story is narrated by Dan Cereill, “nearly 15” and having to start a new school after his dad (newly out as gay) left them, the family business went bankrupt, and he and his mom lost their house. Fortunately, they were able to move into a place left to them by the mom’s great aunt.

Dan makes a list of what he needs to do next, which includes cheering up his mom, getting a job, trying not to be a loser in his new school, making himself speak to his dad again, figuring out how to be “good” (“I don’t want to become the sort of person who up and leaves his family out of the blue”), and at the top of the list: “Kiss Estelle.” Estelle is his new next-door neighbor, a girl he hasn’t even met yet, but from the moment he first saw her, she started carrying his heart, as he explains.

His mom sees he is worried on the first day at the new school, and says “Just be yourself.” Dan thinks:

“My ‘self’? I don’t really have a clue who that self is. It’s like some kind of amorphous blob I’m trying to make into a better shape. I just know the bits I don’t want to broadcast to a group of strangers.

Gay dad.
Single mom, question mark over mental stability.
No cash.
Private-school refugee.”

Dan quickly discovers the lay of the land at the new school, observing that his class has divided itself into a number of groups including:

“…the blondes, in a teen-America time warp. Why hasn’t anyone told them that’s (no way) (omigod) (only) (like) (so) (totally) (random) (gay) and (way) (not) (cool) or (whatever)? I’ve tuned in. They use about twenty transposable words in all; quite efficient, I guess.”

His new life starts out poorly: “I’m the opposite of okay. I’m nokay.”

Dan is so delightfully charming, funny, insightful, self-deprecating, and brave, you can’t help rooting for him as he sets out against very tough odds to accomplish his goals.

He soon makes a new friend, Lou, another “odd sock” like himself, finds a job (after a hilarious false start), and gets to know Estelle. He keeps revising the progress of his list in his diary as the book proceeds, and by the end, you just know that list is going to come out in pretty good shape.

Evaluation: Fiona Wood is a must-read author for me. She packages teen angst into such a delightful bundle, you forget, for a while anyway, why you ever thought teenagers were not adorable.

Rating: 4/5

Published in the U.S. by Poppy, an imprint of Little Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, 2015

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Review of “Until We Meet Again” by Renee Collins

Cassandra (“Cass”) is 17, and is spending the summer before her senior year with her family in a beach house in Crest Harbor, Massachusetts. She is bored, resentful, and rebellious, and goes looking for trouble with the other bored rich kids around the area. Then one night on their private beach during a full moon, she meets Lawrence, who has just turned 18 and is also broody and unhappy. His father is insisting he go to Harvard in the fall and become a lawyer, in a life of “carefully planned obedience,” but Lawrence wants to write poetry. With Cass, Lawrence finds a kindred spirit, and they both fall in love with each other. But they have a bit of a problem. Lawrence lives in 1925, and Cass lives one hundred years later, in 2015. They cannot leave the beach and be together.


Cass goes to the library to see if she can find out more about who Lawrence and his family were, and discovers to her horror that Lawrence is in danger. She is determined to help him; but is it possible to change history? And if she does, can they be together?

Discussion: I liked this book a lot more after I finished it; the ending is very good. But I had some issues with the plot leading up to the dénouement.

First, Cass doesn’t seem very bright (no surprise since she doesn’t consider that reading books might be an option to relieve boredom). She finds out early on that her meetings with Lawrence have in fact changed history, but then forgets it or discounts it.

Cass gets bent out of shape when she learns about Fay, a girl Lawrence dated before he even met Cass (and for that matter, one hundred years earlier). And yet, at the end, Cass has no reaction to related information she finds out about Lawrence.

Some of the main characters go through whopping personality changes that defy belief, the biggest being Lawrence’s beloved Uncle Ned, but also including Fay, the girl Lawrence had been dating before Cass, and even Cass’s mother. Most of the side characters are more caricatures that characters.

Some of the writing isn’t so great either. The metaphors can be a stretch: “Time howls on, like the wind.” Cass keeps telling Lawrence that everything “sucks” – one would think he might need clarification. She also talks about pictures on her phone, yet another thing you would think would cause him to wonder. (Although they spend many hours talking, she decides it would be wrong to tell him too much about the future.) And in the very beginning, Cass describes two good-looking male friends in Crest Harbor by saying: “Both have the classic all-American look – tall, sparkling blue eyes, and a crop of blond hair that’s been gelled to scientific levels of perfection.” All American? I found that offensive.

Evaluation: In spite of some quibbles I had with some of the writing and some of the plot elements, this is an appealing romance with some added suspense and an unexpected ending.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Sourcebooks, 2015

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