Eila and I recently came back from a visit to some relatives on their island. They were, as always, unfailingly gracious, and entirely without vulgarity. They remind me that if one acts and speaks without resentment, mental generosity becomes second nature. I always enjoy books that recall this gentlemanly stance. It’s hard to find them, especially in adult literature where jealousy and selfishness loom as large as they do in most of our lives. Elizabeth Goudge wrote quiet grown-up novels about non-vulgar people, but they’re not much read any more. The phenomenon is much more prevalent in children’s literature, particularly children’s literature of the past. When I need this kind of thing I turn to the Bastables or the Swallows, and recently I enjoyed Astrid Lindgren’s The Children on Troublemaker Street. But I’ve just found a new one, fresh off the press: Deirdre Baker’s Becca at Sea.
Becca at Sea bucks the trend in children’s literature toward cinematic action. There are action scenes–a fire is averted, a boat is rescued in a storm–but the heart of the book is the still space in the mind of a girl coming to know an island and the gracious, if eccentric people who inhabit it. There are brief instances of meanness–cousins can be snide–and a glimpse at a potentially rocky adult romance, but all of it–we see, though we are never told–will sink into Becca, becoming the means by which her curiosity is channeled into generosity of spirit. I read the book in one sitting, last night. I wish it were longer, but at the same time I am deeply satisfied with it.