The heartbeat of a book. Unmistakable.
But with other books there is no sound.
They tiptoe silently, coming up right behind you, and then they seize your heart without you feeling it.
It is strange how you can fall victim to a good book.
Reading aloud calmly and then, all of a sudden, boom!
You stare for a second, incredulous.
You blink. You look again.
You fell for it.
Yes, it is you now in the book, on the speeding train in the imaginary land.
Smiling and waving back from a passenger car rushing down the tracks to nowhere.
You know something has happened, but the train is moving so fast, the sentences are flying one after the other.
All of a sudden, Anna Lavinia and you are on the train to the end.
You can no longer pull out of the book, it is that involving.
Simply, there is a special kind of magic in Brown's words. A magic that is only present in effortlessly written books.
Admittedly, our sofa was the same old massive dark blue sofa. The one where we usually sit to read.
My son was sitting on my left side, my daughter on my right side.
But for the first time ever - we were sitting on a runaway train.
Seeing is not always believing.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Beyond the Pawpaw Trees is an adventure. But it does not feel like an adventure book.
It is a simply a story about a girl and her cat. They are thrust into adventures.
They find themselves in a virtual hurricane, but in the eye of the hurricane everything remains calm.
This little gem was written back in 1954 by Palmer Brown and published by Harper.
Many reviews I read about it were from a truly devoted fan base who were heart-broken that the book went out of print.
We are talking about a book that is so good that it even saved a marriage.
Whenever I read about a children's book with such a strong impact on readers, I know that we have to savor it.
One simply cannot rob kids of such a gem.
I've been trying to put my finger on it, what is it that makes it so special.
Was it the unforced mood? The surprise plot twists? The magical atmosphere?
Was it the unconventionality? Or maybe its 'lavender blue' mood?
I cannot pinpoint it yet.
What is certain is that Palmer Brown created an adoring story.
Her father - who is chasing rainbows - sends letters promising he will come back and her mother says "Never believe what you see or hear. He will not come".
"Never believe what you see" was her mother's life motto.
Her father's motto was "Believe only what you see".
Anna Lavinia tended to side with her father's view of things.
One day her mom announces that it is time for Anna Lavinia to go and visit her father's sister - Aunt Sophia Maria.
Anna Lavinia was so excited that she stopped eating her oatmeal
and left the spoon sticking straight up in the dish.
Anna Lavinia goes for her first ever adventure - which starts on a fantastic train trip that leads her to amazing lands where she meets unconventional people and animals.
On lavender blue days like today, Anna Lavinia could not help thinking
that the world beyond the pawpaw trees and the brick wall
must be a very wonderful place, full of strange things.
It is the attention to the little details that make this book exceptional.
From Palmer Brown’s beautiful hand drawn illustrations to the minute mood setting elements.
Anna Lavinia was almost certain, though not quite sure,
that the hedgehog opened one eye and winked at her.
She travels on a vegetable cart to the train station when the vegetable cart driver gives her a silver key that her father had once forgotten several years ago, after hitching a ride in a thunderstorm.
On the train, Anna Lavinia meets a very fat lady with dozens of packages and during their conversation she discovers that Strawberry has decided to follow her as a stowaway in her carpet bag.
The adventure goes completely haywire from here when the fat lady and the train engineer step down from the train.
|Map from Beyond The Pawpaw Trees|
via NYRB classics A Different Stripe
They meet a real-life Pasha, go for a ride on a camel, pick up a crazy talking parrot, levitate in the hot winds after jumping off a cliff, climb down a well, carry a strange animal named a thobby, ride into a flying mirage town... and at the end of the adventure Anna Lavinia finds someone who she loves dearly.
This fabulous book - recently reissued in a beautiful hardcover edition by the New York Review Books as part of the NYR children's collection - is an unmissable read-aloud.
If you happen to like it, as I hope you will, you are in luck.
Palmer Brown followed up Beyond the Pawpaw Trees with another book of Anna Lavinia's adventures, which is named The Silver Nutmeg. The NYR Books will also publish The Silver Nutmeg and it is due in April 2012.
By now, you are wondering about Beyond The Pawpaw Trees.
Is it a fairy tale?
A fantastical adventure?
Is Anna Lavinia a kindred spirit with Alice and Dorothy?
Well, you do not have to take my word for it.
Bella on Books maintains that the answer to all these questions is a resounding Yes.
I love what Bella says: fans of My Father’s Dragon would probably love this book as well, because of its very similar feel.
Well, it did not cross my mind originally - but I see her point.
It is like a more mature version of the adventures in Blueland and with a girl protagonist.
About Beyond the Pawpaw Trees, his first published book, Palmer Brown said: “If it has any moral at all, it is hoped that it will always be a deep secret between the author and those of his readers who still know that believing is seeing.”
I can only add, that you have to read it to believe it.
Beyond the Pawpawtrees is available from bookstores in the US and elsewhere: