Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Cornelia and Christmas
Eleven year old Cornelia Street considers herself a wordsmith. She'd rather curl up with a good book than socialize with her classmates. Words and books become her castle-wall to hide behind and insulate herself. At the end of the school day, she heads home to her apartment building in Greenwich Village, where members of the household staff await her - but where her mother rarely stays.
Cornelia's parents are both world-famous pianists. Most people would envy that fame and that talent, but not Cornelia. She has no desire to play piano herself and wishes that her jet-setting mother were home more often. Her father is not in the picture; Cornelia has never known him. Though she has every (material) thing she could need, Cornelia is lonely.
That is, until new neighbors move in across the hall. Who would have thought that an elderly woman would become a little girl's best friend? The dazzling Virginia Somerset shares Cornelia's love for stories and big words. The self-proclaimed Scheherazade tells Cornelia amazing tales that star Virginia and her three sisters as they travel all over the world, meeting famous artists and leaders.
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume is charming. Yet I am reading it through the lens of an adult and not the middle grade reader it is marketed to. As a 4th grade teacher I tried to imagine my students falling in love with this book in a sea of high adventure, fantasy or bubble gum books....think Diary of a Wimpy Kid! That might be a hard sell, unless it was to the right child at the right time!
The stories told by Virginia beg to be read aloud to a child, cuddled up next to someone, the language and vocabulary sucked on and dribbled down the chin!! A read aloud in class or a Literature Circle with some of my students would be a better fit as some of the 'escapades' seemed aimed at adults and not children both in 'tone and topic.' But...this was a book I think I would have loved as a child. I remember loving From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.J. Konigsberg as a child, which also featured an 11 year old girl who felt misunderstood by her parents and friends. (Don't get me wrong, I wasn't that child myself, I just enjoyed reading about them.) I was a bookworm through and through and this book would have appealed to that part of me right off the bat!!
"She watched Cornelia for a second. "When I first met you, many moths ago, you were sucha closed book, Cornelia," she said. "You wove yourself into a maze of longer and longer words so nobody could find you. And now you use words as bread crumbs through that maze. When I first met you, you used dictionaries as fortresses, Now you;re beginning to understand that the words in those heavy books are also about the stories those words compose. And, like I've always told you, stories exist to be retold and shared with others."
"Not that I', not impressed that you know such long words," Virginia continued. "But sometimes I think that the simplest language is the best language. Listen to this."
She pulled an old book out from under the sheets. Cornelia could not see it's cover.
"This is a conversation that takes place between two friends," Virginia explained. "One friend has just saved the others life. And the one who saved the other one is telling him why she helped him in the first place." She began to read:
" ' Why did you do all this for me?' (the first friend asked). 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.'
" ' You have been my friend.' replied (the second friend). 'That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die...By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.' " pgs. 250-251
This is our book group read for January and I feel only a tad bit smug at being finished early!!! Wahoo!
On a Christmas note - -the holiday was spectacular, as usual!! We are so very blessed. Family, friends, great food, gifts of presents and presence!! Perfect!