The Book My Grandma Gave Me

Everybody else had gone to town, but she was happy she had stayed home. She glanced around the farmhouse. The floor was swept, the breakfast dishes done, the house tidied. Now her own fun could begin! 

She went to the one bookshelf in the house. Built into the writing desk, this shelf held all the books her family owned. Of course, it wasn’t hard to find the one book she wanted – the one with the light grey cover. 

After wiping her hands on her skirt to make sure they were clean, she slid the book from the shelf, and, carrying it in two hands, went outside. 

A smokey-grey farm cat scuttled in front of her as she stepped out the door. Many days she would have followed the cat, but not this time.

She settled in the sun-warmed grass near a scraggly tree. Here enough of a breeze blew to keep her comfortable even in the summer weather.

She opened the book. She knew just where she wanted to start reading…

This is how I imagine my grandmother as a girl, enjoying the book she passed down to me. What book was that? The Best Loved Poems of the American People.

There’s something special about poetry. As Betty Stam put it,

“Don’t you love the common words

     In usage all the time:

Words that paint a master-piece,

     Words that beat a rhyme,

Words that sing a melody,

     Words that leap and run,

Words that sway a multitude,

     Or stir the heart of one?…”[1]

Some of the best loved poems of not only the American people but of people the world over are poems that tell a story. Here are a few that you might enjoy whether you are 9 years old or 99.

  • The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Longfellow
  • The Children’s Hour by Longfellow
  • Rain in Summer by Longfellow
  • The Touch of the Master’s Hand by Myra Brooks Welch
  • The Wedding Gift by Minna Irving
  • The First Snowfall by James Russell Lowell
  • Snow-Bound by Whittier

Yes, I do love “Words that paint a master-piece/Words that beat a rhyme”. and, Grandma, I’m glad you do, too. Thank you for sharing not only your book of poems with me but also the book-worth of stories from your life. Happy Birthday with love!

13 Stories of America to Celebrate Independence Day – Part I

Since this 4th of July marks the USA’s 240th birthday, here are 13 stories (in honor of the 13 colonies) that not only trace the American saga through time but also illustrate hard work, sacrifice, family and faith. After all, these traits are just as much a part of America’s story as the characters who lived them. 

1. 1776 by David McCullough – I remember being surprisingly enthralled by 1776. While I love the illustrations and facsimiles tucked within the illustrated edition, it was the audio edition that made me a fan. David McCullough’s work is exceptional, not only because of his research but also his understandability.

2. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Longfellow – A nation without its poems and ballads would be like a person without a heart and blood…or something like that. At any rate, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere is one of the poems that captures the spirit of the War for Independence at its very start. Just make sure you read a strictly historical account of Paul Revere’s ride to get the whole story without the poetic license!

3. The Williamsburg Years by Nancy Rue – This series was the star of one of my posts in 2015. If you want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time onto the streets of Williamsburg when patriots walked, this series is for you! 

4. Abigail Adams – Her Letters (Voices from the Past) by Abigail Adams – What better way to learn about the world during America’s birth than through the letters of one of her heroines? Abigail Adams’s letters bear testimony to the courage and struggles of American patriots during the nation’s early days. Reading is lovely, but if you don’t have time to read, try listening to this audio adaptation. By listening, I think you might have a little extra spark in your imagination to picture Abigail at her dusk, pen in hand, while the vibrations of bombs shake her study…and so much more!

5. “The American Revelation” (Parts I & II) by John Fornof – Here is another story for your ears. Perhaps many of us are in the same boat with Marvin Washington – ignorant about the contributions of African-Americans to the War for Independence. This compelling, two-part tale from Adventures in Odyssey takes Marvin – and you – on a journey back in time that will leave you with unforgettable knowledge. 

6. Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington – I read Up from Slavery in middle school (I think it was then!) when I did a report on Booker T. Washington. All these years later, I still think it’s an excellent way to learn about the life of an African-American post-Civil War, especially because Booker wrote it himself. 

7. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – America has never been all patriots or political movers. It is also pioneers. Pioneers like the Ingalls family who worked hard, enjoyed simple pleasures and loved well – valuable lessons for today’s Americans. As I’ve mentioned in another post, this series had a profound effect on my life, and I hope it will continue to be read and enjoyed for generations to come. 

Stay tuned for Part 2! Until then, happy reading/listening, and – for all my American friends – may you have a Happy Independence Day! 


On the 18th of April…

It’s April 18th, and I’m so excited that it’s here! You see, it just so happens that April is National Poetry Month. (Who knew, right?) That means it’s high time I introduce you to two of my childhood friends.

First, meet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was one of the “Fireside Poets” who wrote several poems that I memorized and loved to recite when I was in school. (Ok, you might hear me quoting them yet!) “The Children’s Hour” and “The Village Blacksmith” became two of my favorites, but another poem is oh-so apropos for today because one of it’s lines says, “On the eighteenth of April…”

Do you know which poem has that phrase? The first two lines will give you a clue:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

There you go! The multi-page poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” commemorates the daring deeds of an American Patriot named Paul Revere who warned the people of Lexington and Concord that the British were coming to capture both the Patriot leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock and the Patriot supply of gunpowder. His successful “midnight ride” began on April 18th in 1775 – 240 years ago today!

If you’ve never read the poem, do give it at least a quick look today. Can you hear the rhythm?

The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet, 
And the measured tread of the grenadiers 
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Can you see it on the screen of your imagination?

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height, 
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns, 
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight 
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark, 
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark 
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:

Obviously, I love this poem. However, dear old Longfellow practiced prolific poetic license. For example, the “one if by land, two if by sea” signal was meant to warn other Patriots, not Revere. He already knew when the lanterns were hung that the British were planning to come by sea.

If you’d like to know more about the true tale, one way is through an audio story called, “The Midnight Ride,” by the team at Adventures in Odyssey. I think that audio drama played a role in endearing both poetry and history to me so long ago. (Note for those who listen: Apparently, both “Old North Church” and “Christ Church” were used as names for the same church in Boston, the church with the highest steeple in the city – just perfect for showing off signal lantern lights! (1)

You can visit Old North Church along the Freedom Trail in Boston.

You can visit Old North Church along the Freedom Trail in Boston.


"Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church…"

“Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church…”

Beyond historicities of Longfellow’s poem, I’ve been contemplating another aspect of it: For much of the world, Revere’s midnight ride is all they know of him – if that. How much we miss! There is so much more to his story. For example…(2)

  • Did you know that Paul Revere’s father came at age thirteen to America from France because his Huguenot (French Protestant) parents wanted him to escape Louis XIV’s tyranny?
  • Could it be that his father’s love of horses prepared Paul for his (several) daring rides for liberty?
  • Have you heard that Revere learned his skill as a silversmith from his father and then took over the family business at age nineteen when his father died?
  • Are you aware that he was a member of the Boston Tea Party?
  • How about that he was chosen to design and print the new American money used to pay soldiers during the War for Independence?

All of these other glimpses of Paul Revere give us a much richer picture of him, don’t you think? He had his share of joys and heartaches, successes and failures. Many things worked together to make him the man who made that midnight ride.

I was struck by a little lesson here. Just as we see Paul Revere in one moment of his life and can think that that’s most of the story, we can think the same when we meet people day by day. How often do I meet someone for a few minutes and think I know their story? Maybe a truth to take home from Longfellow’s poem is that people’s lives are full and complex. A one-time meeting often only scratches the surface. What would we see differently if we knew more of the other chapters?

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,-- 
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!

1 “Old North Church” (accessed April 17, 2015).

2 Scott Ingram: Paul Revere, Triangle Histories – The Revolutionary War (Blackbirch Press, 2004).