This may be my all time favourite book for summer reading.
I was given a copy when I was 8, just before we moved to this farm. It was an old book then, and years later as a parent I was worried my kids wouldn’t relate to it well. However, we did it as a read aloud a few years ago, and though they were about 10 and 13 at the time, they loved it as much as I did. I still re-read it occasionally. With all the heat most of southern Canada and the US are experiencing right now, I was reminded me of the opening to the book. The heroine, Garnet, is about 9 or 10 in rural Wisconsin in the ’30’s. The story follows her life on the family farm over a summer. Here are some excerpts from the first chapter:
Garnet thought this must be the hottest day that had ever been in the world….It was like being inside of a drum. The sky like a bright skin was stretched tight above the valley, and the earth too, was tight and hard with heat. Later, when it was dark, there would be a noise of thunder, as though a great hand beat upon the drum….After supper each night her father came out of the house and looked up at the sky, then down at his fields of corn and oats. “No, ” he would say, shaking his head, “no rain tonight.”
Citronella Hauser came down the steps of her house flapping a dish towel like a fan. She was a fat little girl, with red cheeks and thick yellow bangs. “Land!” she called to Garnet. “Isn’t it hot!” Where you going?”
“For the mail,” said Garnet. “We might go swimming,” she added thoughtfully.
But no. Citronella had to help her mother with the ironing. “A fine thing to have to do on a day like this,” she said rather crossly. “I bet you I’ll melt all over the kitchen floor like a pound and a half of butter.”
Garnet giggled at this picture and started on her way….
“Days like this,” remarked Citronella, “make me wish I could find a waterfall somewhere. One that poured lemonade instead of water. I’d sit under it all day with my mouth open.”
After she had helped with the dishes, Garnet and Jay put on their bathing suits and went down to the river. They had to go down a road, through a pasture, and across half a dozen sand bars before they came to a place that was deep enough to swim in. This was a dark, quiet pool by a little island; trees hung over it and roots trailed in it. Three turtles slid from a log as the children approached, making three slowly widening circles on the still surface.
“It looks like tea,” said Garnet, up to her neck in brownish lukewarm water.
“Feels like it too,” said Jay.
Garnet said goodnight and tiptoed up the stairs to her room under the eaves. It was so hot there that the candle in its holder had swooned till it was bent double…It was too hot even for a sheet. She lay there, wet with perspiration, feeling the heat like heavy blankets and listening to the soft thunder, the empty thunder, that brought no rain….Late in the night Garnet woke up with a strange feeling that something was about to happen. She lay quite still, listening….slowly, one by one, as if someone were dropping pennies on the roof, came the raindrops. Garnet held her breath: the sound paused. “Don’t stop!” she whispered. A noise of wind stirred in the leaves, and then the rain burst strong and loud upon the world…
Doesn’t that whet your whistle? Thimble Summer is by Elizabeth Enright, first published in 1938, and a Newbery Medal winner. After this opening, the story gets better and better – this kid has adventures, the kind that just happen to a person: she climbs trees, gets dirty, gets stuck places, flies into such a temper with her brother that she runs away. At the same time, she is responsible (well, for a nine year old), helpful, more or less obedient, loyal and loving. Threaded throughout the fabric of the tale is the flow of farm life which provides fascinating glimpses into farming practices of the 1930’s, something I didn’t notice as a child reader, but find most interesting now. Go find the book at your local library (it probably has air conditioning by the way), or buy it online, and give it a go. Even if you don’t have kids.
I know there’s not a lot of spare time for reading at this time of year, but I think most of us fit in a chapter or two with a cup of tea or before bed. So what pages are you turning this summer?