Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Every Day in May: 31 - not the end!

Note: This is not the end! I will be painting today, and will post my 31st literary lady tomorrow. 

Hermione Granger

from the fantastic Harry Potter series by the also fantastic J. K. Rowling


“ 'Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery and — oh Harry — be careful!' "

“ 'Just because you've got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have,' said Hermione nastily, picking up her quill again.” 

" 'It's "levi-OH-sa" not "levi-oh-SAR." ' "


Oh, Hermione. She's smart, clever, loves books, and is compassionate and brave. She is one of the main reasons Harry can accomplish half of what he does in the story - but she's so much more than just a walking encyclopedia. Her crusade for the plight of the marginalized is so great that she not only begins a group to raise awareness - the Society for the Protection of Elvish Welfare ("S.P.E.W.") - but she then works to create laws to make just that happen. She leaves everything behind to help rid the world of evil, because for her there is no other way to be. 

In a world where girls are often shown as passive, over-sexualized, boy-crazy, or stupid - or worse! hiding their intelligence so they're less threatening - Hermione Granger is a brilliant breath of fresh air. She's been described as a feminist icon and I'm beyond thrilled that my whole family loves her. Hermione is a role model for intelligence and striving to always do your best, no matter where you come from or who you annoy in the process. And her loyalty and compassion are just as important. She stands up there with any classic heroine you can name as being an important literary figure.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Every Day in May: 30

Jo March
from the Little Women books by Louisa May Alcott

“ 'I want to do something splendid...something heroic or wonderful that won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't know what, but I'm on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.' ” 
“ 'I like good strong words that mean something…' "
“ 'I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.' ”
Josephine "Jo" March is one of my favorite literary characters of all time. She's strong, creative, and defies convention. She loves with all her heart and gives everything in life her all, whether it's nursing her sick sister Beth, romping with her next door neighbor Laurie, or cutting off her hair to raise money for her ailing father's recovery. She writes to amuse her sisters and friends, to make a living for her family, and most importantly, because she is an artist. She must write to live. And when it comes to love, she makes no compromises either - and follows her heart to have the love and life that feeds her soul. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Every Day in May: 29

Pippi Longstocking
From the books by Astrid Lindgren 


"‘He’s the strongest man in the world.’

‘Man, yes,’ said Pippi, ‘but I am the strongest girl in the world, remember that.' "

" 'Don’t you worry about me. I’ll always come out on top.' "

" ' I don’t suffer from freckles,' said Pippi.
Then the lady understood, but she took one look at Pippi and burst out, 'But, my dear child, your whole face is covered with freckles!'
'I know it,” said Pippi, “but I don’t suffer from them. I love them. Good morning.'
She turned to leave, but when she got to the door she looked back and cried, 'But if you should happen to get in any salve that gives people more freckles, then you can send me seven or eight jars.


Pippi is a true free spirit. She lives alone, makes her own clothes, and has a horse and a monkey named Mr. Nelson. She washes herself and her clothes at the same time in the same tub, and then pours the entire tub on the floor, ties brushes on her feet and skates around the room to scrub the floor. Her cheerful spirit and enthusiastic attitude make for great adventures. It's no wonder Pippi Longstocking has charmed children and adults alike for years.

Every Day in May: 28

Little My

from the Moomin books by Tove Jannson


"Little My took a deep breath in through her nose and let it out between her teeth in a very unpleasant manner, which meant to say, 'I’ve never heard anything so stupid in all my life.'

" 'Where’s Mother?' he asked. 'Somebody ate her,' replied Little My untruthfully. 'Have you any food?' " 

" 'She can't get angry, that's what's wrong with her. You’ll never get your own face unless you learn to fight. Believe me.' ”


I have painted Little My before. What to say about her? She is sassy and feisty and totally unrepentant. My oldest loved her, and I think that one of the reasons is because she says all the crazy things we can't, and still be welcomed in polite company. To a very quiet and well-behaved child, Little My is the perfect form of self-expression.

She's incredibly small, but makes herself heard and her opinions known so that she can't go unnoticed. In one of the stories she's in, Little My meets an invisible girl who's sent to the Moomin family to rest and hopefully become visible again. Instead of letting her relaxing in peace and quiet, Little My urges her to be loud and feisty until eventually she regains her normal form. Little My is a good reminder to make your voice heard and to express your feelings.... although I'd stop short of the biting.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Every Day in May: 27

Strega Nona

from the Strega Nona series by the wonderful Tomie daPaola


"Bubble, bubble pasta pot, 
Boil me some pasta to fill me up.
I'm hungry and it's time to sup
So boil me some pasta to fill me up."

"The punishment must fit the crime."


I never considered doing a character from a picture book until my mom mentioned that my sister Mary had been hoping I'd do Strega Nona. And then I thought, of course!

Strega Nona means "Grandma Witch" in Italian. She cures people's ailments and solves their problems. She's the go-to lady in her little town in Calabria. When her assistant decides he can do magic too with her enchanted pasta pot, he gets the entire town into trouble. But Strega Nona is on hand to save the village and make sure the punishment fits the crime. (Don't you love how I'm trying to not give spoilers on a picture book? But it's such a wonderful one.)

Strega Nona throughout the books is wise, magical, adorable, and Italian. That was something I really loved as a kid - this was our book. Sure, other stories had beautiful princesses that were exotic and beautiful. We had an Italian grandma who was a peaceful force for goodness and still kicked butt.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Every Day in May: 26

Tricia "Trillian" McMillian

from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams

" 'Probability factor of one to one.... we have normality. I repeat we have normality.' She turned her microphone off - then turned it back on - with a slow smile and continued: 'Anything you still can't cope with is therefore your own problem. Please relax. You will be sent for soon.' "

" 'I don't think I can stand that robot much longer, Zaphod.' "

" 'Tricia McMillian?' he said. 'What are you doing here?'
" 'Same as you," she said. 'I hitched a lift. After all, with a degree in math and another in astrophysics, what else was there to do? It was either that or the dole queue again on Monday.' "


Trillian is a great character. She's a mathematician and an astrophysicist, and takes the opportunity to jump planet when offered the chance. She is smart, funny, and logical, and is the much-needed voice of reason when all of the incredibly wacky events in the books take place.

Her depiction here with her two white mice, Benjy and Frankie (who incidentally are really aliens who created a supercomputer, but I'm getting ahead of myself) is based on her appearance in the books, and not the movie or tv series. I'm still wrapping my mind around that too.

If I had planned things out better, I would have posted Trillian yesterday for Towel Day, the day honoring Douglas Adams.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Every Day in May: 25

Molly Grue

from The Last Unicorn by the fabulous Peter S. Beagle


" 'She is the last. She is the last unicorn in the world.'

" 'She would be.' Molly sniffed. 'It would be the last unicorn in the world that came to Molly Grue.' Molly said, 'It's all right. I forgive you.'

" 'Unicorns are not to be forgiven.' The magician felt himself grow giddy with jealousy, not only of the touch but of something like a secret that was moving between Molly and the unicorn. 'Unicorns are for beginnings,' he said, 'for innocence and purity, for newness. Unicorns are for young girls.'

"Molly was stroking the unicorn's throat as timidly as though she were blind. She dried her grimy tears on the white mane. 'You don't know much about unicorns,' she said."


I had drawn Molly previously in an Illustration Friday entry. I've mentioned about my favorite book in middle school; The Last Unicorn is my current favorite book and has been for quite some time. It's got humor and heart but it reads like poetry.

It wasn't until I read the book as I was older that I got Molly Grue. Really, really understood her. She feels that the best of her life has passed her by. The part of the book where she meets the unicorn for the first time and cries, "How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?" brings me to tears every time.

She's described as bony, pointed, sharp. She makes bold statements about what she feels is true and doesn't mince words or suffer fools. But as the book goes on, and she has more contact with the unicorn and her plight, she becomes softer and begins to allow herself to open up. It's a beautiful story and she's a bright and wonderful part of it. If you haven't read it, or have only seen the movie, do yourself a favor and pick it up today.

Bonus shot - the autographed hardcover edition Paul got me for Christmas one year.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Every day in May: 24

Egwene Al'Vere

from the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan


" 'I'm the Amyrlin but...Elayne, Sheriam doesn't have to think very hard to recall a novice named Egwene, staring goggle-eyed at everything and being sent to rake the New Garden walks for eating apples after bedtime. She means to lead me by the hand, or maybe push me by the scruff of my neck.' "

" 'I am in command until this threat passes. You will call me Mother.' "

" 'I am Aes Sedai by virtue of having been raised to the Amyrlin Seat,' Egwene replied calmly...'I can cite the relevant passages in the law, if you wish.' "


(No huge spoilers here - the series is 13 (14?) books long and I haven't finished them yet.)

Egwene is just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world... (sorry, couldn't help it) until fate brings mysterious visitors to their village with a knowledge of magic, called the One Power. It turns out that not only does she have the spark and can "channel" magic as well, but she is one of the strongest in history. She joins the group of women who do magic called Aes Sedai and becomes involved with a rebel faction as corruption and evil break their ranks apart. Though she's still a novice, she's chosen as their figurehead and leader, the Amyrlin - mostly so that she can be controlled by others who are older and wiser, and also so that if they fail in their mission, she will take the brunt of the punishment. Egwene turns all this on its head by actually being a good leader and taking her position quite seriously, to their dismay.

If you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings series and you have a lot of reading time, give the Wheel of Time series a try. Egwene is only one of many characters, but I love her resilience and loyalty. She is always striving to take care of those around her and to better herself. Sounds like a mother indeed. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Every Day in May: 23

Margaret Simon

from Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume


“We must, we must, we must increase our bust.” 

“Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I just told my mother I want a bra. Please help me grow God. You know where.”

“I lived in New York for eleven and a half years and I don't think anybody ever asked me about my religion. I never even thought about it. Now, all of a sudden, it was the big thing in my life.”  


I thought I was around 10 when I read this, and I just recently handed it off to my 12 and 13 year old daughters because I didn't think they were ready to read it earlier. Go figure. 

Margaret is a great character because she says what we were all thinking about - growing up, periods, how icky they were, how exciting and strange it all seemed. Being in that middle place between being a little girl and becoming a woman and not really knowing where you fit in. At the time it must have been revolutionary to talk about personal things like this, and I can easily see why this book was banned over and over. But to me, this book is a classic, and reading about how Margaret navigates these waters is a helpful reminder that every kid has to grow up and nobody is alone. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Every Day in May: 22

Esmerelda Weatherwax

The Discworld series by the fantastic Sir Terry Pratchett


“ 'I'm not a lady, I'm a witch.' ”

"Witches are not by nature gregarious, at least with other witches, and they certainly don't have leaders. Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn't have."  

“Esme Weatherwax hadn't done nice. She'd done what was needed.” 


Though I love pretty much all of the characters that make up the (20+?) Disc wold universe, I have a special place in my heart for Granny Weatherwax. She is plainly and happily herself. She can be fearsome when she wants to be, or frightening, but most of the time she's a no-nosense old lady who prefers to use "headology" over magic unless it's absolutely necessary. 

She can borrow animals' bodies and uses them to travel and see places she wouldn't be able to as a human. For those times, she lays on her bed with a sign that reads "I aten't dead" as a precaution, lest anyone think she has passed away. Spelling is not one of her strong points, but it's probably because she hasn't considered it necessary to spend time on. If you're not familiar with Discworld, I encourage you to start reading. This chart is helpful, if not completely up to date, to give an idea of where to start. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Every Day in May: 21

Scarlett O'Hara

from Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell


" ' Fiddle-dee-dee.' "

" 'Dear Scarlett! You aren't helpless. Anyone as selfish and determined as you are is never helpless. God help the Yankees if they should get you.' "

" ' I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day."


At the beginning of Gone With the Wind, Katie Scarlett O'Hara is a spoiled teenager who's about to come of age. She's beautiful and knows it, and is looking forward to a season of flirting and plotting and scheming to get the man she wants. What happens instead is the start of the Civil War, and instead of balls and cotillions, she has to put her scheming and plotting to other uses - for her family, for her land, but most of all, for herself. Because deep down, Scarlett just wants everything to go back to the way it was.

She was the backbone of her family and basically kept them all afloat. Her sheer grit and determination allowed everyone else in the story to be true to their lofty goals while she made unsavory deals and did what needed to be done. I'd like to believe that underneath it all, there was a motivation of kindness and love - everyone couldn't have loved the surface Scarlett without there being something underneath it all that was worthwhile. She never gives up, even when she knows what she's doing is wrong - she pushes it down to think of it when she has a chance to later - tomorrow. And then she gets up and tries again. For that determination and her loyalty, I admire her. I hate to think of what happens when "tomorrow" comes and the realization of all she's done and endured catches up with her. And I hope that some redemption will be hers as well.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Every Day in May: 20

Harriet M. Welsch

from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh


“ 'Well, I’m going to be a writer. And when I say that’s a mountain, that’s a mountain.' ”




I have to admit that this book always made me uncomfortable as a child, most likely because I would never do the things that Harriet did - spy on people, write mean things about my friends, and fight with my family. (Okay, I liked the spying parts of the book but I was always terrified she would get caught.)

Rereading this as an adult, there's so much I didn't pick up on as a kid about Harriet's loneliness and how strange her family life is - or maybe I'm not rich enough to appreciate that it's normal for some. She learns so much about family and life from the people she spies on because she's not getting it at home. How all of her classmates were a bit dysfunctional. And mostly, how passionately she pursued her writing. She didn't do it because it was a hobby, she did it because she absolutely had to. So I love her for her single-mindedness, her devotion, and her willingness to be absolutely true to herself even when her entire world falls apart. There's growth there too.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Every Day in May: 19

Lucy Pevinsie

from the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis


"This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!"

" 'I think – I don't know – but I think I could be brave enough.' "

"In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world."

“But as for Lucy, she was always gay and golden-haired, and all princes in those parts desired her to be their Queen, and her own people called her Queen Lucy the Valiant.”  


Lucy begins the journey to Narnia and leads off the first book in the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lucy is known for her bravery, her loyalty, and her faith. She stands steadfast in her beliefs, even when her own family believes she's lying. When nobody else believes Aslan is near, she follows him implicitly.  She is kind and willing to see the best in others.

She never comes across as smarmy or precious, though - she argues with her siblings and has her own opinions. Lucy is a winning heroine whose quiet and faithful ways endear her to the people of Narnia and readers everywhere.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Every Day in May: 18


from the book and webcomic by Noelle Stevenson


" 'I'm a shark!' "

" 'You can’t just go around murdering people. There are RULES, Nimona.' "

" ' This is what you wanted, isn't it? You went looking for a monster. Well, here I am.' "


I first read Nimona online, as it was published section by section by the uber-talented Noelle Stevenson. I shared it with my kids and got them caught up, and we waited eagerly for each new chapter to appear - probably the way Victorians waited for the next chapter of the latest Dickens. We were so thrilled by all the accolades and awards Nimona has won and the fact that it's been published on paper means that it can reach an even wider audience.

Nimona is an entity like no other. When we first meet her, she's a shape-shifter who approaches the sinister and one-armed Lord Ballister Blackheart in hopes of becoming his sidekick. She wants to help him defeat Lord Ambrosius Goldenloin (how I love these names, seriously) and wreak havoc on the Institution.

Nimona doesn't look like your average heroine. Most of her head is shaved, she has multiple piercings, and she is muscly, strong, and round - there is nothing waif-like and delicate about her. She's snarky and funny, but there's a very old wound there and a mystery about her to be solved. We just love her. You can give her a read here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Every Day in May: 17

Scout (Jean Louise) Finch

from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

"It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived."

"I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks." 


I'm not sure what to say about Scout Finch, other than that she's just wonderful. She frames the entire narrative of the incidents in the book in an innocent and caring way - she's definitely her father's daughter. Her father is Atticus Finch, trusted lawyer and one of the only people in the town that will stand up for the rights of blacks in their small town in Alabama in the 1930s. She's definitely a favorite.

It's hard to see in the photos above, but in her hands she's holding treasures left for her and her brother Jem by their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley: "Two Indian-head pennies, chewing gum, soap dolls, a rusty medal, a broken watch and chain."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Every Day in May: 16


from the Pern books (beginning with Dragonsong) by Ann McCaffrey


" 'Women can't be harpers,' she'd said to Petiron, astonished and awed.
'One in ten hundred have perfect pitch,' Petiron had said... 'One in ten thousand can build and acceptable melody with meaningful words. Were you only a lad, there'd be no problem at all."

" 'It's so beautiful. It's such a challenge, to hear the interweaving harmonies and the melody line changing from instrument to instrument. I felt as if I was... flying on a dragon!' "


I love Menolly for so many reasons. First off, she's denied music as a girl because it's not an appropriate occupation for women in their society. But she can't keep herself from composing and playing and is beaten for it. She runs away to a cave on the beach where she finds herself at the hatching of nine fire lizards, which are kin to dragons (also a major part of the Pern novels). Her personal journey to find her place in the world makes her an exciting and relatable character. Especially if you love music, you'll want to follow her adventures as she hones her talent and learns that there is a place for her songs.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Every Day in May: 15


from The Lord of the Rings books by J. R. R. Tolkien


“ 'What do you fear, lady?' he asked.
'A cage,' she said.”

“ 'Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!'
'But no living man am I!' "


Here be spoilers. If you haven't read the books, look away. 

Éowyn is royal. She adores her family and wants to help rid their country of the evil that is threatening to overtake them - which is originating right in her uncle's own court - but because she is a woman, she can't ride into battle and raise her sword against them.

There are very few female characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but thankfully, Éowyn has a chance to shine (and hang out with hobbits!) She takes matters into her own hands and breaks free, and goes into battle, succeeding where others had failed. It is only after her triumph that she has a change of heart, and decides on her own terms that she is through with war. She wishes instead to become a healer.

She doesn't decide, well, I can't have what I want, so I may as well be a healer, that's good. No, she actually fulfills what she's always wanted to do, succeeds, and then decides to turn her focus elsewhere towards something that still helps her land, but in a different way.

(I feel the need to add that today is another literary day - today was the day that Horton heard a Who!)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Every Day in May: 14


from the novel by Roald Dahl


“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.” 

“Sometimes Matilda longed for a friend, someone like the kind, courageous people in her books.”

“She decided that every time her father or her mother was beastly to her, she would get her own back in some way or another. A small victory or two would help her to tolerate their idiocies and would stop her from going crazy.”  


Matilda is a young girl who has been born into the wrong family. While she loves to read and learn, her parents (in the brilliant way that only Roald Dahl can tell it) stand for ignorance, cheating, telly-watching, and every boorish thing you can think of. They think she's four when she tells them she's six and a half and wants to go to school. They want her to stay home so that she can sign for packages. She manages to find an escape at the library where books open a world of possibilities for her.

But school is no better. The children are regularly oppressed by the principal, Miss Trunchbull. Matilda is regularly told she's small and insignificant both at school and at home: "I'm right and you're wrong, I'm big and you're small, and there's nothing you can do about it." Until the one day when she discovers she has magical powers...

So why do we love Matilda? She loves to read. She loves to learn. And she strikes a blow for every person who felt marginalized or belittled for liking something different.

(Note: This is one of the few instances where I think the movie lives up to the book. It's just delightful.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Every Day in May: 13

Jane Eyre

from the novel by Charlotte Brontë


“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, - and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

"Reader, I married him."


Jane Eyre was one of the few books I read for school that I just loved. Unfortunately, my mom, on seeing what I was reading, said, (highlight for spoiler) "Did you get to the madwoman in the attic yet?" Thanks a lot, Mom.

So why Jane? She is motivated by a strong sense of wanting to be loved and to hold fast to her belief in right and wrong. Although she works as a teacher and a servant, she is unapologetic about telling the truth and speaking her mind - not from a rude sense of entitlement but because she wants so desperately to be understood and loved for herself.

While offers of love come her way, the terms are unacceptable to her, and so she strikes out on her own rather than submit to anything false. For the time, this book was revolutionary. Part romance, part horror, Gothic as all get out, it's a great read and you'll find yourself cheering Jane on and wanting to see her get everything she asks for.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Every Day in May: 12

Turtle Wexler

from The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin


" 'My mother says I looked just like a turtle when I was a baby, sticking my head out of the blanket. I still look like a turtle, I guess, but I don't care.' "

"Turtle skipped school. She was in trouble enough, but she could build her own school and hire her own kind of teachers once she became a millionaire."

" 'I never told you this, Jake, but I've always had a sinking sensation that the hospital mixed up the babies when Turtle was born.' "


Turtle Wexler is a girl who is known for kicking people in the shins, especially if they pull her braid. There's a huge mystery afoot at her apartment building, and she is named as one of 16 possible heirs to win a fortune, if she can solve all the clues. But instead of coming off like a brat, Turtle is extremely likable. She's clearly not the number-one daughter in her family - that honor goes to her beautiful sister Angela - but she tries hard to win attention and her their love by being bright and smart. Turtle strives to be accepted on her own terms and pays attention to the tiniest of details, which helps her solve another mystery along the way that directly affects her family. It's a fun read for all ages. I don't want to describe too much and give away any of the mystery or clues. All I'll say is - BOOM!

I also want to note that author Ellen Raskin is not only an amazing author but was first a designer and illustrator. One of her more famous covers made a very brief appearance in Tuesday's entry, or see it in full here. She's the only person I can think of who had artwork on the cover of two Newbery Award winners, one of them being her own book.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Every Day in May: 11


from The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley


"Morgaine was not tall; she would never be that, and in these years in Avalon she had grown as tall as she would ever be, a scant inch taller than the Lady. Her dark hair was plaited down the back of the neck and wrapped with a deerskin thong; she wore the dark-dyed dress and deerskin over tunic of any priestess, and the blue crescent shone darkly between her brows.... Already she appeared ageless, and she would, Viviane knew, look much the same even when white appeared in her dark hair."

“How do you write of the making of a priestess? What is not obvious is secret. Those who have walked that road will know, and those who have not will never know though I should write down all the forbidden things.”

" 'Are you the lady Morgaine that they call Morgaine of the Fairies?'
   Morgaine said, 'I am.... Because I am of the old royal line of Avalon, and fostered there.' "


The Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the Arthurian legend told through the voices of the women in his life. If your only experience with the King Arthur story is that Morgan le Fay was an evil sorceress, go pick up this book. Yes, Morgaine does all of the things she does in the legends, but in this retelling there is so much more to it than that. At a very young age she's brought to Avalon to study to become a priestess and serve the Goddess, as her entire family does. Their goal is to see that their religion reigns on the British isles, and this Christianity thing doesn't take over. Guinevere ("Gwenhwyfar" in the book) just as fiercely believes that all of Britain must unite under Christ. But the two aren't enemies. There's no inherently good or bad side. Instead we get an intimate look from both sides of the lives and struggles of the women closest to Arthur.

About Morgaine herself: like many others on this list, she is a proud and determined woman. But she's written in such a human way that you can't help but cheer her on and commiserate. Especially when you already know how the story must go... and you shake your head because you know that all the plotting and scheming in the world is only going to bring everyone misery. She does a lot of underhanded things, but she does them believing in her heart that it's the only way to bring about her goals for the good of everyone.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Every Day in May: 10

Meg Murry

from A Wrinkle in Time by the fabulous Madeline L'Engle


" 'Maybe I don't like being different,' Meg said, 'but I don't want to be like everybody else, either.' "

" "Nobody suffers here,' Charles intoned. 'Nobody is ever unhappy.'
'But nobody's ever happy, either,' Meg said earnestly. 'Maybe if you aren't unhappy sometimes you don't know how to be happy.' "

" 'Like and equal are not the same thing at all!' "

A Wrinkle in Time is the only book I know of that actually starts with "It was a dark and stormy night" and is a fascinating read all the way through. Meg is the daughter of two scientists - her beautiful mother does experiments in her lab built off the kitchen, but her father has been missing for years and nobody will say why. Meg regularly has fist fights with anyone who disparages her father or her strange younger brother, Charles Wallace. It's through the introduction of new characters (especially an boy from school who becomes a close friend) that she begins to find her place in the world and that her unique blend of brilliance, stubbornness, and love for her family might be the only thing that can save them. 

This was hands down my favorite book through elementary and middle school. I have tried to read everything I can by Madeline L'Engle, and I love her books about the Austins too, but there's nobody like Meg. I love too how L'Engle allows her characters to not only grow up, but to meet each other too - they all live together in the same world. It's like meeting old friends. 

Illustration note: if you've read the book, you'll know why Meg is holding a folded piece of string with an ant in her hands. Her button shows a depiction of a tesseract, which in the book is the 5th dimension and the answer to rapid space travel.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Every Day in May: 9

Professor Minerva McGonagall

from the fabulous Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling


“Have a biscuit, Potter.”   

" 'Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts,' she said. 'Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned.' " 

… Harry witnessed Professor McGonagall walking right past Peeves, who was determinedly loosening a crystal chandelier, and could have sworn he heard her tell the poltergeist out of the corner of her mouth, 'It unscrews the other way.' 

" 'He [Dumbledore] will not be single-handed!' said Professor McGonagall loudly, plunging her hand inside her robes.
'Oh yes he will, Minerva!' said Dumbledore sharply. 'Hogwarts needs you!' "


Professor McGonagall is actually not the oldest character I'll be painting, but she certainly is feisty. An accomplished witch, she is one of the only registered Animagi and can transform herself into a cat. She leads the Transfiguration department, if the head of Gryffindor house, and eventually becomes Headmaster of Hogwarts. She takes no flak from anyone, student, or teacher. But when there's a problem, she's there to offer a biscuit and give advice, and to lend her wand and fight for what's right. And she's strong - at one point she takes four stunning spells straight to the heart ("at her age!") and returns to the castle to resume her duties.

If your only brush with Professor McGonagall is the movies, read the books. Yes, Maggie Smith is fabulous and the perfect person to play the role, and I adore her. But movies leave a lot out. Read the book!

Illustration note: I actually looked up photos of Maggie Smith as Cousin Violet from Downton Abbey for clothing hints. Her black also contains purple as a nod to that character - another tough old lady! Behind her is her patronus, also a cat. 

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Every Day in May: 8

Claudia Kincaid

from the book From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg


“I've been the oldest child since before you were born.”

"I didn't run away to come home the same."

“Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her pack. She didn't like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes. Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere.” 


I'm pretty sure that most people remember this book very well, but not our heroine's name (unlike another Claudia I could mention).  Claudia Kincaid decides one day that she's just not appreciated at home, so she plans to run away. But not just anywhere - to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, so that she can have art and culture as well.

Claudia is immensely practical; she takes her little brother Jaime along because he has the most money in his piggy bank. And that yearning for something more for herself than the everyday monotony of being a big sister to three younger brothers, and being in charge of them and doing chores while they did none - making straight As as well - I get that and I appreciate that. She didn't just run away from home, she did it in style. And while I never longed to run away from home as a kid, I did secretly want to live in a museum and be surrounded by more art than I could handle, and have the luxury of staying and enjoying it as long as I wanted to.

If you've read the book, you'll know what the mysterious symbol means on the paper Claudia is holding. (And if you haven't, that's even more reason to read this Newbery Award winner now as an adult.) Claudia leaves home - and returns there - on her own terms. And for that, I love her.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Every Day in May: 7

Nancy Drew

from the series by Carolyn Keene


“Chuckling to herself, Nancy said aloud, "Romance and detective work won't mix tonight!” 

“When threatened with a hairbrush by a vicious woman, remain calm and speak in cold level tones.”  

“Ned said "Nancy Drew is the best girl detective in the whole world!""Don't you believe him," Nancy said quickly. "I have solved some mysteries, I'll admit, and I enjoy it, but I'm sure there are many other girls who could do the same.”  


One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my mom's lap, reading The Secret of the Old Clock together. She would read one page, and I would read the opposite one. I think I was 5. I gave the teacher a bit of a surprise when she asked what I read at home and I said, "Nancy Drew."

Little did my mom know that she was opening up my world to a totally heroic lady. She had her own car (a convertible!) and drove herself wherever she needed to go. She had a band of girlfriends that came with her to solve mysteries when she needed backup, but mostly she went solo. I loved reading about her adventures. I appreciate even more now how she was an independent woman at a time when many women's options were getting married, being a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary. Not that there's anything wrong with that - but Nancy Drew must have been a breath of fresh air.

I'm glad to say that we have a stack of Nancy Drew books (and Hardy Boys) on our shelves. Some were mine, some belonged to friends and family that wanted to see them be enjoyed again. I wouldn't mind spending the afternoon with Nancy in her roadster every now and again myself.