Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Ides of April

Author:  Mary Ray

Illustrator:  Gino d'Achille (cover)

Era:  62 A.D.

Published: 1974 (?)

Award:  None known

Age Range:  12 years old and up

Review:  ★★★★



Senator Caius Pomponius Afer is murdered in his bed and the household slaves are taken into custody to face the sentence of death if even one has perpetrated this crime.  Aulus, Pomponius' valet and the first slave to happen upon his master after the assassination, is suspected, but when he dies in prison, who will prove his innocence?  Yet the slave list has been neglected and so, no one is aware that two of the slaves are missing. Where is Assinius, the Senator's steward, who had not been seen days before the murder?  And Hylas, the Senator's Greek secretary is not in the party.

Hylas, as it turns out, escaped detection in the house and is working steadfastly to find out who committed the dastardly deed.  He is certain that it was not one of the servants, but who could have had the opportunity and motive to commit such a vile execution.  Enlisting the help of Pomponius' son-in-law, Camillus Rufus, the nobleman and slave investigate, and unearth devious plots that could possibly rock the foundations of Rome's political body and cost them their lives.


Genre:  Children's Historical Fiction

Background:  Publius Clodius Thrasea Paetus is one of the characters in the story, yet he is a real Roman historical figure.  By his actions in the Senate and in public life, he exemplified a man of honour and convictions, often going against the status quo in favour of principles.  Upon Nero's murder of his own mother and the Senate's obsequious behaviour towards the Emperor, Paetus walked out of the Senate meeting, refusing to be part of it.  His opposition to Nero continued and eventually his admirable ethics caught up with him.  Nero contrived charges against him, accusing him of neglecting his senatorial duties, and he was sentenced to death by his choice.  At his suburban villa, he elected to have the veins in his arms opened and died with serene dignity.

Setting:   Rome in the year 62 A.D.  

Point-of-View:  The story is told from the point of view of the slave, Hylas, yet switches part way through the story to the point-of-view of Camillus.  This substitution offers a unique perspective for the reader as they get to first see Roman life through the eyes of a slave and later see it through the eyes of a patrician.


Characters:


Patricians:

Caius Pomponius Afer:  A Roman senator

Camillus Rufus:  A military tribune married to Blandina

Domina Blandina:  Senator Pomponius' daugher and Camillus' wife.

Domina Faustina:  The step-mother of Senator Pomponius

Decianus Gallus:  The step-brother of Senator Pomponius

Galerius:  A friend of Camillus



The Household of Caius Pomponius:

Hylas:  The main character.  Senator Caius Pomponius' secretary

Assinus:  Senator Pomponius' steward

Aulus:  Senator Pomponius' valet

Nissa:  The mother of Hylas and Faustina's maid

Merope: Domina Blandina's maid


People of Rome:

Macrobius:  A prison governor

Varro:  A market porter

Matidia:  His aunt

Figulus:  A barber

Vibulanus:  A butcher

Dionysios:  Secretary for Correspondence from the Eastern Provinces in the Imperial Household


Historical Characters:

Thrasea Paetus:  A senator and former consul.  He lived during the time of three Emperors, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.

Seneca:  Tutor, and at this point, an advisor to Nero

Emperor Nero:  During his reign, he initially concentrated on trade and the enhancement of cultural life.  He is the Roman emperor who was accused setting fire to Rome.  He was also the first emperor to commit suicide.

The Remorse of Nero after the Murder of his Mother (1878)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

Plot:


What does the central character want?


  • Hylas wants to find the murder of Pomponius to save his mother and the rest of the slaves.  Camillus wants to find the murderer to pay a debt to Hylas and to see justice served.


What keeps her from getting what she wants?


  • Hylas is being sought by the athorities, which makes his search for those responsible and the gathering of clues, more difficult. Camillus is impeded by family loyalty.  He struggles with truth and exposure of those close to him.


How does Hylas and Camillus finally get what they want?


  • Hylas gets what he wants through Camillus, and Camillus, with the help of Paetus, finally realizes that truth and justice is more important than personal consequence.  Through the process of the investigation, he begins to see the slaves as people instead of just a commodity.


Conflict:

  • Man vs. Man  Camillus is in conflict with his wife and the possible public exposure of their family.
  • Man vs. Society  Hylas' place as a slave in society makes it difficult for him to search for justice or the truth
  • Man vs. Himself  Camillus struggles with himself to determine if justice or personal wants are more important          

Representation of the Roman Senate
source Wikipedia

Themes:
  • Murder
  • Loyalty
  • Ethics
  • Duty
  • Bravery
  • Mutual Alliance
  • Family
  • Patrician vs. Slave



© Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Forgotten Daughter

Author:  Caroline Dale Snedecker

Illustrator:  Dorothy P. Lathrop

Era:  2nd century B.C. (around 113 B.C.)

Published:  1933 (Doubleday)

Award:  Newberry Honor (1934)

Age Range:  8 - 14 years old

Review:  ★★★★


Twelve year old Chloé lives with her companion, Melissa, in a shack in the mountains of Samnium outside of Rome.  The daughter of a Greek slave and a Roman centurion, at her mother's death she is abandoned by her father to her fate, which is that of a slave.  As Chloé grows to womanhood, she draws from the animals and nature around her as companions.  Her character is as lovely as the woods surrounding her, yet still she nurses an abiding hatred for the man who should have loved, nurtured and raised her as his own.  When a young Roman nobleman arrives at a neighbouring villa and encounters the young woman, Chloé's circumstances appear destined to change for the better, yet her past finally catches up with her and Chloe must decide whether she will hold on to the ghosts of the past or reach forward into a new future.

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Background:  The main story is woven around a true one, events surrounding Tiberius Gracchus, a man who was born to a noble family in Rome, yet one who ended up struggling for the rights of the lower classes. He managed to get an agrarian law put through the senate which would return land expropriated by wealthly Romans back to the peasant population.  This law stirred dissention in political circles and when Tiberius decided to run for re-election as a tribune, a group of irate Senators set upon him, clubbing him to death.  Cornelia Scipionis Africana also appears as Tiberius' mother and the daughter of the hero Scipio Africanus who defeated Hannibal in the Second Punic War.


Setting:  Most of the story takes place in the mountains of Samnium, outside of Rome.  Melissa and Chloé live in a hut up the hill which is separate from the country villa.


Samnite Soldiers from a tomb frieze in
Nola, Campania 4th century BCE
source Wikipedia

Characters:

Chloé:  A girl who is half Greek and half Latin.  Her mother was taken in a raid on Lesbos, by her father, Lavinus, a Roman nobleman.

Melissa: Chloé's companion, who was also taken in the raid.  She was the daughter of a priest of the temple.  She is Chloé's surrogate mother.

Aulus Cornelius Maro:  A Roman nobleman who is a friend and supporter of Tiberius.  When Tiberius is killed Aulus is exiled to his country villa and meets Chloé.

Davus:  A Roman slave who oversees Lavinus' country estate early in the book.  He is harsh and cruel to Chloé in particular.

Bion:  A Greek slave who takes over management of the estate when Davus is sent to Rome.  Because of his nationality and kind heart, he becomes a benefactor to Melissa and Chloé and assists them whenever he is able.

Robina:  The villa's cook and a little bit of a gossip.

Lavinus:   Chloé's Roman father.  He is rumoured to have abandoned Chloe's mother and Chloé, and married another woman, for which Chloe holds intense antipathy toward him.

Historical characters:

Tiberius Gracchus:  A Roman tribune and a cousin of Aulus.  Though coming from a rich family, he struggled to improve the lot of the lower classes of Rome.  (see background)

Cornelia Scipionis Africana:  the mother of Tiberius





Plot:


What does the central character want?

  • Initially Chloé wants revenge, or at the very least to hold on to her hatred for her father.  She also deeply wishes for something different than her life as a slave, but because of her sheltered situation, she is not quite sure what she wishes for.


What keeps her from getting what she wants?

  • As for slavery, the situation of slaves in Rome was governed by strict laws and the only way to escape it was to be freed by a master.  There does not look like there is much hope for Chloé's situation, even though Aulus believes that he can convince his family to accept her as his wife. Also, the anger and hostility that Chloé harbours towards her father prevents her from moving forward.

How does Chloé finally get what she wants?

  • With regard to her father, his return gives Chloé new information and allows her to re-examine her prejudices and conclusions.  Chloé's father accepts her as his rightful child and her days of slavery are no more.  Chloé also learns that love is better than hatred, and after realizing that she has based her feelings of anger towards her father on lies, she surrenders her heart to him.  Hatred is a type of slavery that will not only harm the one that it is directed against, but the person himself; it not only affects the relationship with that person, but because of its corrosive nature, can affect other relationships as well.  In letting go of her hatred, Chloé sets herself free.



Conflicts:  

  • Man vs. Man   Chloé is in conflict with her father, angry at his perceived abandonment. 
  • Man vs. Society  Chloé is in conflict with the Roman system itself that devalues a man and allows a human being to be treated as an animal.
  • Man vs. Himself  Chloé struggles within herself with negative feelings toward her father that, without her realizing it, prevent her from moving forward in life.                  


Themes:
  • Hatred
  • Cruelty
  • Identity
  • Judgement
  • Acceptance
  • Love
  • Politics
  • Nature
  • Understanding
  • Forgiveness


Snedecker was known for her extensive research using only primary or secondary sources, and The Forgotten Daughter sings with a melody of the past.  Snedecker's writing brings Roman life to the reader in vibrant colours and poignant emotions.  The descriptions of the setting are beautiful and living and, as a reader, you feel that you have stepped right into the story.



Quotes from The Forgotten Daughter:

  • Forever besetting mankind is this temptation --- to make other men into machines.  Always in a new form it comes to every generation, and always as disastrous to master as to slave.
  • Despair in the old is a grievous thing, but not so bad as despair in the young.  The young have no weapons, no remembrances of evils overcome, nor of evils endured.  They have no muscle-hardness from old battles.  They see only what is present, and they believe it to be forever.  And they are very sure.  Besides, joy and up-springing are the right of youth, and without it youth falls to the ground.
  • It is strange how people will try to mend their lives when the garment is torn to shreds.  It is strange, too, how life's garment, unlike human weaving, grows whole with the mending.  It is as if some invisible kindness out of the air had set to work with you ---- here a little and there a little.
  • We folk of the modern day can, with a touch of the finger, flash a whole city into light; we can plunge through clouds faster than any bird; we can soar above the very atmosphere of earth.  But we have lost the sweet informing companionship of animals which was the daily life of men of old.  Animals as pets are not the same.  They are not these ancient vital companions.  These ancient animals were in equal partnership with men, gave as much as they took --- gave somtimes more. ...... Life could not go on without them; and with them life was sweet, warm, responsive.
  • One wonders how the people of the ancient world met their griefs.  These griefs were of more cruel nature than ours, and the people had, so it seems, less spiritual weapons to meet them.  That they did meet them and bear them in all those deep and long-lost centuries is a keen comment on the intrinsic worth of men.




© Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Cabin Faced West


Author:  Jean Fritz

Illustrator:  Feodor Rojankovsky 

Era:  1784

Published: 1958 (G.P. Putnam's Sons)

Award:  None known

Age Range:  3 - 12 years old

Review:  ★★★★★



A wonderfully poignant story of Ann Hamilton, a young girl who has moved west with her family, which include her parents, two brothers and a baby.  Her father, in his wisdeom, emphasizes that the family must "look west" now, and that there should be no looking back.  Ann, however, finds this resolve difficult.  She misses her family, especially her cousin, Margaret, who was her best friend.  How will she be able to carve out a new identity for herself in this unfamiliar land?  Who is this new Ann, who is now a pioneer girl?

Genre:  Children's Historical Fiction

Title:  The Cabin Faced West.  Why would Fritz choose this title for her book?  The title wraps around a major theme in the story: looking forwards towards your goals and challenges, and not looking backwards.  Ann and her family have left the East to settle in the West and now everything must face West:  their thoughts, their dreams, their faces, even their cabin, must look toward their new life.

Setting:  Hamilton Hill (now Ginger Hill), "The Western Country" on the other side of the Allegheny Mountains, west of Gettysburg.  For a map, see here.

Point-of-View:  The story is told from the point-of-view of 10-year-old, Ann Hamilton, a pioneer girl whose family has recently settled in the "west".  By viewing the stories through Ann's eyes, the reader is able to better perceive the thoughts and struggles of children of that time as they try to adjust to foreign lands and circumstances.  In Ann's case, she has been taken away from her family, and especially her best friend who is her cousin, Margaret, as well as the trappings of civilization.  Her internal conflict is in trying to carve out a new identity for herself, in getting used to the land and the people she meets.  Her struggle is keenly felt by the reader.


Characters:


Ann Hamilton:  10-year-old Ann is unhappy that she's had to leave Gettysburg, her extended family and friends.  Her families' situation at their homestead in the west is still uncomfortable for her, and she struggles to find a place in this new life that has been given her.

Daniel Hamilton:  Ann's older brother.  Eighteen years old, he is trying to act a man and will sometimes reprimand Ann.  He tells his siblings that none of them are allowed to criticize the west.

David Hamilton:  Ann's seventeen-year-old brother, David has a twinkle in his eye and is quicker to laugh than his older sibling.

Mother:  Ann's mother is an understanding mother.  Through her we learn some of the chores and responsibilities of pioneer women.

Father:  A minor character in the story but he is portrayed as responsible and caring.  He gently assists Andy's family in seeing the value of hard work and how it can add to their lives.

Andy McPhale:  A settler boy who is rather sullen and difficult.   He shows up at the Hamilton's farm often, and Ann offers to teach him to read.  By observing her family, Andy learns the value of work, and what can be done through perseverance 

The McPhales, Andy's parents:  Andy's mother is sickly and his father is portrayed as small-minded and uneducated, but through the Hamilton's influence and kindness, Andy's family's qualities begin to improve.

Arthur Scott:  A young man who has come to newly settle in the area.  

George Washington:  The U.S. president, of course.  In the story, he is coming to check on his land in the area.  He has dinner with the Hamiltons.

Dr. Craik:  One of President Washington's companions


Plot:


What does the central character want?


  • Ann thinks that she wants a life like she used to have, when really she is trying to find her identity within this new life of a pioneering family.


What keeps her from getting what she wants?


  • Ann's resolve to "look back",  sometimes without realizing it, impedes her from moving forward.  Nevertheless, her experiences with Andy and others around her are causing her to become more attached to her new surroundings and already are creating bonds with her new environment that she is not yet aware of.


How does Ann finally get what she wants?


  • Through the visit of George Washington and his wise words, Ann realizes that she is part of the forming of their country and the bravery and resolved that is required of her and all pioneers who set out to build a new life.  Finally, instead of focusing on the microscopic circumstances in life, Ann gets a glimpse of the larger purpose, and is transformed.


Conflict:  Man vs. Man  There is internal conflict within Ann in attempting to loosen her hold of the past and accept the future.  She needs to "face west".


Themes:
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Perseverance
  • Looking forward
  • Kindness
  • Bravery
  • Self-reliance
  • Family
  • Liberation


Quotes:
"The future is traveling west with people like you ....... Here is the rising world ---- to be kept or lost in the same way a battlefield is kept or lost."

This story is based on a true story, one that happened to Fritz's great-great-grandmother, Ann Hamilton.  George Washington did, in fact, stop at their homestead in 1784 for dinner.  In Washington's diary on September 18, 1784, it reads:  "Set out with Doctr. Craik for my Land on Miller's Run, crossed the Monongahela at Devore's Ferry ...... bated at one Hamilton's about 4 miles from it, in Washington County, and lodged at Colo. Cannon's." Fritz's great-great-grandmother told the story to her children and it was passed down through the generations to finally be shared with us all.







© Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content