Monday, September 14, 2015

Alex Is Reading...THE KIDS' CLASSICS

A lot of grown-ups looking for good readalouds come into the store trying to find more than the old standbys. This is understandable, and also wise: there is an endless flow of amazing writing for kids coming out all the time, and by sticking to the oldies, you can easily miss out on lifelong literary loves. A couple of years ago, however, I started to get both nostalgic and curious about the classics I'd been read as a child. My family (which contains no children, but if you don't read aloud to your fellow adults now, you should absolutely give it a try) started reading them over again. To my delight, the books that felt old and important and personal when I was five and six and seven feel freshly wondrous today.

So, to any parent groping for the next good bedtime book: pick something new, and pick a classic. They won't be stale for a child who has never read them, and you may be surprised at how bright and lively they feel to you.

Here are six children's classics that have not stopped making perfect bedtime, daytime, and anytime together reading.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame--The Wind in the Willows is a book with the same satisfactions as Frog and Toad, but much, much longer. The touching friendship of a brave mole and his easygoing companion the river rat is balanced perfectly against their disastrous friend TOAD, who gets way to into motorcars, and especially into motorcars he doesn't own. The book comes in a million and one editions, but I love the big gifty hardcover linked here and seen above, with full-page illustrations by Inga Moore.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett--This one may have to be taken with several coarse grains of Victorian salt, but the saintly Sara Crewe and her troubles are still satisfying to read about. You still envy her that perfect doll, suffer with her as she slaves away for the dreadful Miss Minchin, and there's still smug gladness in watching her get her just rewards. But boy howdy does Frances Burnett look down on her poor friend Ermengarde!

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien--My own mother read me The Hobbit twice, at ages five and eight. I wasn't too troubled by the fatalities of the climactic battle, but as I child I loved (and loved again recently) the appealing pettiness of the dwarves, their various adventures, and the struggles of poor Bilbo (who would rather be home drinking tea) through goblin kingdoms, past hungry trolls, out of Gollum's slimy clutches, into the lair of Smaug, who is as good and greedy and well-spoken a dragon as you're ever likely to find.

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis--Okay. Publishing order dictates that you don't start with The Magician's Nephew, and I grant you that it doesn't go down as easy as some of Narnia. But as a kid I was enamored of all the little treasures in this book: hidden attics, magic rings, evil uncles, wild music, practically sacred woods filled with almost dangerous peace, an ancient broken world from which a bone-crackingly terrible queen escapes.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers--Julie Andrews made her look 90% nice, but Mary Poppins isn't nice. She's interesting. As the hapless Jane and Michael Banks (and younger siblings) follow Mary Poppins at her whim, half of the wonder is in the adventures they have, and half is in the awe and love everything they encounter feel about Mary Poppins. You might start to notice repetitions in the themes if you read beyond the first book, but I recommend going forward. There is enormous comfort in Mary Poppins, the snippy, vain, and glorious.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum--The shoes are silver, NOT red. The series doesn't have the melodrama or black and white morals of its recent adaptations. It is delightfully bizarre, a string of slightly brutish heroines tumbling through nonsense-adventures which leave you scratching your head, but glad about it. I link here to the first omnibus, which goes as far as Ozma of Oz and its plucky Bill the Chicken, but the full color Usborne edition of the first book we carry in the store is beautiful and highly recommended.

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