Tag Archives: Canada

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford

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Sheila Burnford’s animal saga is a nice little story that somehow doesn’t manage to achieve greatness at any point through it’s duration. Mind you. every child should read this charming novel once in their lives, and for the most part it has managed not to age since it’s first publication in the sixties; it’s a sweetly rendered love letter to house pets and the great Canadian wilderness as well as a suitable read aloud.

Still, The Incredible Journey’ fails to be truly riveting, and I’m trying to put my finger on the reason I feel this way. The story follows an irresistible bull terrier protagonist, Bodger, and his two animal friends (a Labrador and a Siamese cat) as they brave a arduous trek across Canadian soil to find their beloved masters. There are many challenges along the way, of course, presented in episodic fashion, and Carl Burger provides lovely illustrations portraying the animals’ daunting journey.

Two film adaptations came out after the books release, a 1963 version, the more realistic one by far. and a tame Walt Disney remake in 1993, a bastardization in many ways while still remaining a relatively charming family film. People who watch the 1993 film might get a confused notion about what the book itself is about. While “Homeward Bound” (as the remake is called) applies celebrity voice actors to the animal characters, there is barely any dialogue at all in the book. The animals certainly don’t talk.

Instead of giving the animals human voices, the novel concentrates one portraying the canines and their feline companion with their animal behavior intact while still making them likable and endearing. This book is a little darker and much more serious than “Homeward Bound,” and sometimes comes off as a little frosty and distant without the voices of the animals we 90’s kids have come to expect from childrens’ entertainment.

While the book is much more mature and artistically sound, there are times when one gets a chilly vibe from the brief volume, where individual events and supporting characters aren’t focused on for more than a few pages. The main thing that supplies this book with life is the exquisite charcoal drawings, cozy and warm additions to the text.

The real strength of ‘The Incredible Journey’ is Burnford’s obvious skill writing prose as well as her ability to make the animal characters sympathetic without having them say a single word. The old bull terrier, Bodger, will win your heart with his undying loyalty and steadfast sweetness as well as his adorable love of children and particularly the unlikely bond he shares with his feline friend, Tao.

Something about this book- maybe the slim size- makes it feel a bit unsubstantial, like a sweet that you savor before it all too quickly disappears down your throat and into your stomach, leaving you hungry for more. However, it’s a book that kids and adults should like just fine and it endearing, if like the metaphorical sweetie, not quite filling.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

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Admittedly, I am not supposed to be the target audience for Anne of Green Gables. In fact, I would not have reread it at the age of twenty had my mother not bought the used boxed collection online to read to my sister. I figured, heck, why not; if only for nostalgia’s sake? If I could describe Anne… in one word, it would be ‘quaint’ which is a very good thing, in this case. It helps the reader to remember a simpler, more innocent time through the eyes of a spirited, naïve child.

Marilla and Matthew Cuthburt are grown-up, unmarried siblings living together in the small, gossipy town of Bolingbroke, Novia Scotia who decide to adopt a young boy from an orphan asylum to help them carry out household and farm tasks on their piece of land. Imagine their surprise when Matthew goes to the train station to pick up his adoptive son and comes back instead with a freckly, fiery-haired eleven-year-old girl!

This is Anne Shirley,  who talks constantly and always has her head floating up in the clouds with pleasant daydreams. Anne ingratiates herself in with the Cuthberts and eventually bonds to some extent with the suspicious townspeople, despite the fact that her peppery demeanor allows little room for forgiveness. She can hold grudges like a Sicilian, especially against a certain schoolmate named Gilbert Blythe, who might be Anne’s first crush (not that she’d ever admit it,) and the Cuthbert’s busybody neighbor Miss Rachel Lynde.

The novel, the first a series following the titular ginger, follows the often humorous series of mishaps and ‘scrapes’ Anne befalls on the road to growing up, and her eventual maturation and coming of age. There’s no great drama until near the end, where one lead character dies and a serious disability threatens to limit another’s day-to-day life.

The thing is, I found Anne a bit annoying at the beginning of the book, but I found myself missing the old, chatterbox Anne when she became more quiet and serious, which was quite a strange experience for me. Anne is overall an ideal role model for girls, spunky while still retaining her femininity and promoting a love of reading and childhood flights of fancy.

The relationships in Anne of Green Gables are quite sweet and innocent and although the slow pace and florid vocabulary won’t snatch up reluctant readers, young girls and girls at heart who already love books and reading will enjoy this this trip down memory lane, or will happily devour the series for the first time. The jury is out on whether a boy would pick it up.

Overall,  Anne of Green Gables is not too outdated and is often very funny in a gently wry way (you can tell that Lucy Maud Montgomery was a sophisticated lady with quite a sense of humor.) However, it might be hard to push on new readers in our electronics-obsessed world, as it is low on epic conflict or contemporary-minded shtick.

Favorite Character- Matthew was such a sweet old man. He was terrified of girls and women as a lifelong bachelor lacking in sex appeal but really doted on his adopted daughter in a pure, innocent way. Perhaps he was a little bit on the simple  side but he was a good father to Anne and a hard worker.

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