Monday, February 26, 2007

In Praise of Marguerite de Angeli 2

This is an illustration from Marguerite de Angeli's Elin's Amerika, which tells of a young girl Elin, who had come to America with her family from Sweden toward the end of the 17th century. The Swedes, not the Quakers, were the first to settle in the Philadelphia area, establishing settlements along Darby Creek. In the woods near my grandmother's home in Drexel Hill it is possible to visit a replica of a Swedish cabin as the first European settlement in the region. This is an adventurous tale, because the Swedish colonies were quite precarious and faced many dangers, including from Indians. The illustration shows a family scene typical of colonial life--the family sitting before the fire after the evening meal, each member working on their own particular project. The TV seems to have replaced the fireplace in this function today. Throughout the story, de Angeli tells of Swedish customs, the rigors of this early life, the chores that were daily necessities for survival, and the customs of Swedish religious life.

The other books below also show the breadth of cultures that Mrs. de Angeli's books explored. However, whereas today the emphasis is on diversity and how we must respect differences, Mrs. de Angeli's work, without ever saying so, emphasized the universality of human life, despite the differences in culture that she brought to the fore and celebrated. As a child you never came away from one of her books thinking, "That child is a lot different than me," but rather, "That little girl is just like me!"

The Black Fox of Lorne is illustrated but not a picture book as the others, and is a book for children of perhaps 10 or 11 to read to themselves. It is an adventure story about Viking boys.

The Door in the Wall is one of Mrs. de Angeli's best-loved books and one that has remained in print. This is the story of a boy in the Middle Ages during the years of the Black Death. It is a remarkable story of courage and Christian life during that time.

Skippack School is the story of a little boy and his encounters with the headmaster of Skippack School in the area of colonial Philadelphia. I believe the story was inspired by real stories of a famous headmaster during that time. The title page of the book shown above is an example of the lovely colonial-style embellishments that Mrs. de Angeli does in many of her books. This story is filled with adventure and is beautifully illustrated.

I hope that there is a revival of Mrs. de Angeli's books among Christian children, those educated at home or at school. This is a topic I have wanted to write about for many years, and I am very happy to be finally doing so!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your review of these books. I happen to have The Door in the Wall checked out from the library, but we haven't started reading it yet. I will soon after reading your reviews! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

About Skippack School, Christian Light Publications in Harrisonburg, VA, publishes a 61 page book on the headmaster called Christopher Dock, Pioneer Christian Schoolmaster on the Skippack, compiled by John D. Martin.

The book also includes some songs in the back written by Christopher Dock. The last few use the distinctive "shape notes."


Linda said...

Dear Donna, Thank you! That is fascinating. I will look that up. It seems to have been kind of a famous school and I wonder what the background is that Marguerite de Angeli would know about it. I don't know what kind of research that she did. I love all of her books.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your reviews of MDA's works. I have loved her books since childhood--I am now 64--and began collecting them several years ago at library sales, etc. Thank you for brightening my day!!

Patricia said...

I also love the works of Marguerite de Angeli. I also am very impressed with your blog. So many of the subjects are ones I enjoy.