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Archive for October, 2011

If you have never read Ralph Moody’s series of books describing his late ‘childhood’ and ‘teen’ years, you are in for a treat. As I said in reviewing Little Britches, I believe every father ought to read these books with his son. And it wouldn’t hurt to read them with daughters as well. I know I will.

I just finished reading the last of the series, and I am already missing Ralph Moody.

Here is a good, brief synopsis of each book from Cumberland Books:

   

  • Little Britches. Ralph Moody was eight years old in 1906 when his family moved from New Hampshire to a Colorado ranch. Through his eyes we experience the pleasures and perils of ranching there early in the twentieth century.
  •  Man of the Family. Father has died and Little Britches shoulders the responsibilities of a man at age eleven as the family works to establish themselves in Denver.
  •  The Home Ranch. During the summer of his twelfth year Ralph works on a cattle ranch in the shadow of Pike’s Peak, earning a dollar a day, tested against seasoned cowboys on the range and in the corral.
  •  Mary Emma and Company. Mary Emma Moody, widowed mother of six, has taken her family east in 1912 to begin a new life. Her son, Ralph, then thirteen, recalls how the Moodys survive that first bleak winter in a Massachusetts town.

   

  •  The Fields of Home. Ralph is having trouble adapting to city ways in Massachusetts, so he is sent to his grandfather’s farm in Maine, where he finds a new set of adventures.
  •  Shaking the Nickel Bush. Skinny and suffering from diabetes, Ralph Moody is ordered by a Boston doctor to seek a more healthful climate. Now nineteen years old, he strikes out into western territory hustling odd jobs, facing the problem of getting fresh milk and leafy green vegetables.
  •  The Dry Divide. Ralph Moody, just turned twenty, had only a dime in his pocket when he was put off a freight in western Nebraska. Three months later he owned eight teams of horses and rigs to go with them.
  •  Horse of a Different Color. The final book in the Little Britches series, it recounts Ralph Moody’s final years of wandering before settling down to marriage and a career.
The books have occasional cursing, particularly when cowboy conversation is recounted. However, it would be easy to skip over those comments if reading the books aloud. These instances do provide valuable teaching opportunities for parents to guide their children in properly understanding the use and misuse of language. It is helpful to note that the hero of the stories does not use the bad language. The biggest stumblingblock I found was in Ralph’s deceptiveness, particularly in Shaking the Nickle Bush, but even these examples can be turned to good teaching moments.
The series paints the picture of a boy becoming a man. His ingenuity, thrift, perseverance, and other virtues serve him well. His friendliness and ability to attract people of good character provides a valuable example to children. His ability to get along with others who were somewhat disreputable, while not being influenced by them, provides an equally useful example. These books are rich fodder for discussions about life, friends, work, honesty, and a host of other topics.
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A great story leaves you missing the characters when it ends, and Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry clearly qualifies as a great story.

I had never read any of Berry’s books before, but when christianaudio.com made Hannah Coulter its free download of the month in August, I was curious. After reading high praise from the likes of Russell Moore, I downloaded it and began listening. I was hooked.

In the latest installment in Wendell Berry’s long story about the citizens of Port William, Kentucky, readers learn of the Coulters’ children, of the Feltners and Branches, and how survivors “live right on.”

“Ignorant boys, killing each other,” is just about all Nathan Coulter would tell his wife about the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. Life carried on for the community of Port William, Kentucky, as some boys returned from the war while the lives of others were mourned. In her seventies, Nathan’s wife, Hannah, now has time to tell of the years since the war.

An audiobook is enhanced or ruined by its reader. HC‘s reader, Susan Denaker, richly deserves this high praise from Audiofile Magazine:

Susan Denaker brings twice-widowed farm wife Hannah to life with soft-spoken but resolute dignity. As the 20th century closes and a new millennium begins, the elderly—yet fiercely self-sufficient—Hannah reflects on her past, especially the crucial threads of family, community and the soil. Denaker does an especially effective job of portraying the other figures in the “Port William Membership” in a manner that fits the approach of the first-person narrative. She adjusts the octave and tone of the male and female characters of varying ages just enough to set them apart from each another, but listeners can be certain that Hannah maintains full control of her own storytelling. The experience evokes a sublime visit to a beloved grandmother figure with memories and wisdom to impart.”

As the book drew to a close I experienced that sort-of-hollow feeling that you get when a friend moves away. I have found the story coming to mind many times in the weeks since. I hope Jill doesn’t mind when I say that I miss Hannah Coulter.

(It’s no longer a free download, but it is worth the money to listen!)

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