Thinking about Susan's post on reading to a wiggly preschooler, reminded me that there's an easier time ahead in reading to a snuggly elementary schooler. After a long day at school being a big kid, there's nothing better that getting book time with mom or dad. Picture books remain wonderful choices, but now chapter books become a healthy part of the reading menu. Certainly any book is fine. But there are some that practically beg to be read aloud, especially those where the reading level is a bit high for the intended audience. Here are a few of those classics:
by A. A. Milne
I still hold onto a memory from fifth grade where a teacher saw me reading House at Pooh Corner and complimented me on choosing such a challenging book. These days we think of Winnie-the-Pooh as a preschooler thing, an idea pushed forward by the whole Disneyfication of the characters. It's a crying shame. The watered-down versions of the classic books ruin our appetites for the real thing. Fight back by reading aloud the true version with it's melodious language, gentle illustrations, and sophisticated story-telling.
Jenny and the Cat Club
by Ester Averill
When New York Review Children's Collection republished this book among other classics, I felt like I had found an old friend. I can't say that I had been searching dusty old bookshops for a copy. To be honest, I had forgotten all about this book until I saw the cover. And there was Jenny, the shy black cat with the red scarf. Oh, how I had missed her! The story follows a shy, little cat who wants to be part of the Cat Club and finds friends, adventure, and courage in their world. This book and the other Jenny books are perfect read-alouds for the younger set because the language and plot are simply - yet wonderfully - done.
by Michael Bond
Paddington Bear has also received the Winnie-the-Pooh treatment in recent years (what is it about bears?) with a ton of simplified boardbooks and adaptations. Again, you need to go back to the original to capture the heart of these stories of a bear found at a train station who goes on to make every day into exciting adventures as he bumbles along. The tales are wonderful for elementary school children, but the old-fashioned language and references can make reading the books a struggle. As a read-aloud, however, it's magical.
What are your favorite read-aloud books?
We have an artist to thank for this week's Show and Tale pick. Chris Bishop, painter and PBS KIDS Interactive Creative Director, is a long-time fan of the 1943 classic The Little House, written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton and winner of the Caldecott Medal.
Chris says, "My mother, Carol, was a teacher so we had many great books growing up. As I kid I loved the colors and fine detail of the illustrations of the changing world around the house. I think it's what made me become an artist."
What books have inspired you, either by the illustrations or the colors or style of the work?
Anything by Shel Silverstein is pure magic, but his classic The Giving Tree holds a special place on a lot of bookshelves. Today's pick comes from mom Leigh:
"I love the message of the book and sharing it with my own kids," Leigh said.
Is The Giving Tree a favorite of yours? What Shel Silverstein gems have stuck with you over the years? My favorite of his is Where the Sidewalk Ends, and I always think of the girl who wanted the pancake in the middle of a huge stack, and the wonderful welcome to the book: "If you are a dreamer, come in ..."
Today's Show and Tale comes from Kathleen, a mom who picked Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny. Brown and illustrator Clement Hurd, well loved for Goodnight Moon, created another classic with this sweet tale.
"It's a wonderful way to let your child know that you'd search to the ends of the earth for her," Kathleen said.
Have you read The Runaway Bunny? What are some other comforting books that you and your child love?
Last week I asked this question: "What children's book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?"
The question struck more of a chord than I ever could have imagined. Between responses on Booklights, Facebook and Twitter, my question was answered over 600 times! Being a curious person, I had to find out which books were mentioned the most. The numbers listed next to the titles refer to how many times that book or series was mentioned.
The top ten children's books readers would most like to read again for the first time are:
10. The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls and the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (7 times each). I'm a huge L.M. Montgomery fan, I'd love to read some of her books again for the first time. In the Anne of Green Gables series, the one I'd pick is Anne of the Island.
9. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (8 times) At least half the respondents on this book said they prefered the French version.
7. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (11 times). I just found my old dog-eared copies of these terrific books. What wonderful memories!
6. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (12 times). I actually just read this for the first time last year. I wish I had discovered it when I was a child.
We've reached the halfway point, and are starting to climb into the big numbers.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (22 times). A perfectly written book. It's amazing what an effect Harper Lee has had on so many generations. I read this book in high school, although I recently had a mom (who hadn't read the book) try to convince me that it was appropriate for her third grader.
3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (25 times). This book ranks high on every children's book poll I see such as: "What's your favorite book from childhood?" or "What's your favorite Newbery book?" The answer is always A Wrinkle in Time. Interesting side note: did you know that this book was rejected by over two dozen publishers before it was finally accepted?
The numbers jumped way up for the last two, both of which are series.
2. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (38 times) Great, great books. I remember my first time reading these very vividly. Frodo was climbing up Mount Doom and my mom came in and asked me to clean up my room. I recall telling her in a passionate voice that I had read hundreds and hundreds of pages just to get to that point and I couldn't stop. I had to know what happened next. Fortunately, she took pity on me.
And the books that were mentioned the most... (drum roll, please):
1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (41 times) As a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I couldn't agree more, but I was surprised that Harry beat out Frodo.
I was on the edge of my seat for every single Harry Potter book. Whenever I thought I had figured it all out, Rowling took her story in another direction and surprised me every time. She made me gasp, cry and laugh in a way I never have while reading a book. It was an unforgettable ride.
But as much as I loved that thrilling, spine tingling first time, it was in the re-reading where I discovered the true magic. Rowling planned out all seven books before the first one was even accepted for publication. All the books are full of subtle, deftly hidden clues and wonderful misdirection that are a delight to discover. For more about the joy of reading a favorite book over and over, check out Jen's excellent post on the subject.
Now, on to the runner-ups. Although they didn't make the top ten list, here are the children's and young adult books that were mentioned multiple times. They're in alphabetical order by author.
-Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
-I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
-The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
-Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
-Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
-Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
-The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
-James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
-The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
-Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
-Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
-Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
-The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
-From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
-Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
-The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
-Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
-The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
-The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
-Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
-A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
-Heidi by Johanna Spyri
-Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
-The Polar Express by Chris vanAllsburg
-The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
-Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
-The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Several adult books were also mentioned, but they were far outdistanced by the votes for the children's books. If you're curious, here's the results:
-The hands-down winner was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
-Animal Farm, The Grapes of Wrath, Watership Down, The Princess Bride and Mists of Avalon tied for second place.
-1984, The Foundation Trilogy, Gone with The Wind, Interview with a Vampire and Of Mice and Men came in third place.
All in all, the answers to this question were absolutely fascinating. Here's a few of my favorite comments:
"My third grade teacher read it to us aloud, and every time I read it, I can still hear her sweet voice. I wonder if she has any idea how she affected us." (Charlotte's Web)
"I would love to read Goodnight Moon with my mom and dad again for the first time."
"I can actually vividly remember hiding under the covers when Lord Voldemort made his appearance." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
"I've read A Wrinkle in Time and A Christmas Carol more times than I can count, but nothing compares to the moment I discovered those worlds. They were more real than reality to me."
"I remember one hot summer when I was about ten reading about life in the Alps. I was hooked." (Heidi)
"To be a child again and reading on my father's lap." (The Princess and the Goblin)
"The first book that got me really excited about reading was at about ten years old: The Silver Crown by Robert O'Brien. Nothing compares to that first book you can't put down."
"I can't leave out the first book I remember checking out from the library: The Fuzzy Duckling.
"I'd like to return to fourth grade so I could hear my teacher Mr. Orr read The Thief of Always out loud again. That was an incredible experience for me."
"So if for one more time, I could be a riveted six-year old, I would like to go sit in my father's lap, and read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone just once more."
Thanks so much for sharing all your wonderful comments and experiences.
The best part is yet to come. That will happen when you find a book on this list you've never read before and try it for the very first time. Or better yet, when you read it to a child and watch them experience it for the first time.
Last week Susan wrote about the gift of reading a wonderful book for the first time. She asked readers: "What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?". This post inspired a host of thoughtful and (sometimes) nostalgic responses. The next day, Pam wrote about three of her favorite summer books and asked readers to share their favorites. These posts, in part (along with a post by Charlotte from Charlotte's Library), inspired me to re-read one of my own favorite books, one that is for me the very essence of summer: Return to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright. I previously listed Return to Gone-Away as one of my favorite children's books, and just reviewed it here. Re-reading Return to Gone-Away last week made me think about something that is, in a way, a mirror image Susan's post. It made me think about the joy that comes from re-reading an old favorite, one in which each character and scene are already familiar.
I was only a few pages in to my re-read of Return to Gone-Away when it literally brought tears to my eyes. It wasn't the content of the book that made me weepy-eyed. It's that I was so happy to be back reading this particular book that my emotions just bubbled over. I can only think of a few books that evoke tears from me, just from being themselves. Return to Gone-Away is one of them. Two others are The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key and Listening Valley by D. E. Stevenson (my all-time favorite book, published for adults). (You can read about some of my other favorite re-reads here.)
I love everything about these cherished books. I love the language, especially when I read particular sentences that I remember verbatim. I love the characters, and the way that they remind me anew of the things that make them special. I love re-visiting my younger self, remembering earlier reads of the same book. I literally give these books a little pat on the cover when I see them on my bedside table - I'm unable to rein in my affection. And why should I? These are the books that made me who I am.
When I read new books, I generally require a considerable amount of plot. The more complex and suspenseful, the better. But I'm reminded by Return to Gone-Away that the books I already love, the books that I read over and over again, don't need suspense at all. The re-reading experience, for me, is all about revisiting beloved characters and settings. It's about visiting old friends. It's about a personal connection between me and the particular book. I don't want the opportunity to read these particular books again as if it was the first time (as Susan discussed). Part of what makes these particular books special for me is the incremental appreciation I've built up over dozens of readings.
I like smiling when Mrs. Blake says, on page 1 of Return to Gone-Away "We'll have to think of a new name for that house right away", because I already know the outcome. I like already knowing whether or not Julian will find the missing safe, and whether or not the rope in the old dumbwaiter will break. I like shaking my head on page 9, because Foster's behavior is just so typically Foster.
This affection for particular books is more than just taking comfort in familiarity (though that's part of it). I don't think that you can just pick any old random book off the shelf, and re-read it once a year for 20 years, and have the book become meaningful to you (though that would be an interesting experiment). I think that there has to be something already in the book that makes you want to re-read it every year. Something that connects you to the book. For those books, the ones that you love enough to revisit throughout your lifetime, the connection just gets stronger every year.
This isn't to say that I disagree with Susan about the wonders of reading a great book for the first time. I envy every single person who hasn't read The Hunger Games yet, because they still have it ahead of them. And I know that sometimes childhood favorites don't hold up at all. But I also think (and I'll bet that Susan will agree) that there's something very special about re-reading a favorite book, one that is loved, in part, because it's so familiar.
I'd like to believe that everyone has books like these, books that they can turn to for comfort reading on bleak days. Books that remind them of where they came from, and what mattered to them when they were younger. Parents, what books will bring tears to your children's eyes when they're 40, because they're so happy to be back reading the books again? Will it be Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? The Penderwicks? The Lord of the Rings? Clementine? Will the teens who have read Twilight seven times already re-read it as they get older? Will reading Twilight when they are 60 help them to recapture that feeling of falling in love with a book at 12? I hope so. Because me, I feel blessed to have my favorite books as part of my life. What do all of you say?
A kid asked me a question at the children's reference desk a few days ago. While I was answering it, I saw that he was holding a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I noticed that his bookmark was fairly close to the end of the book. I asked if he had read it before. He said no. Had anyone told him what happened? Nope.
At that moment I was struck by how lucky he was. And, I have to admit, I was a little jealous. He didn't know the ending. Millions of people all of the world (including nearly everyone reading this post, I bet) know exactly what happens in those last few chapters. But he didn't and he had the joy of reading it for the very first time and finding it all out for himself. The magic was still his to discover.
To be as spoiler-free as possible, I'll just say that he was at the beginning of Chapter 34 and Harry was starting to walk into the forest. I vividly remember the suspense I felt when I was at that point and didn't know what was going to happen next. He started reading again the second I answered his question.
It's one of the things I love the most about children's literature. Nothing ever really gets old because there is always a new generation to discover it for the first time.
And it's not just the kids who get to explore new worlds. A few years ago, at the first Kidlitosphere conference, there was a dinner table discussion about the upcoming movie version of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. I had been very vocal up until that point but got quiet as soon as that particular conversation started. When I got asked for my opinion about the book, I said I was embarrassed to admit that I had never read it. Someone at the table (Pam, was it you? Or maybe you, Kelly?) told me not to feel embarrassed, but to feel lucky instead. After all, I still had it to look forward to.
Think about all the children who haven't met Ramona yet. Or Paddington. Or Mr. Popper and his penguins. How about those who haven't gone down the rabbit hole? Or through the tollbooth? Or found out where Platform 9 and 3/4 is? Or what Charlotte writes in her web?
They have so many magical people and places they get to discover.... for the very first time. And to them, the books will be just as new as they were to you the first time you read. How lucky they are.
What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time? What book or series are you still looking forward to?
Update: Thank you all for your wonderful and insightful comments! I was absolutely overwhelmed at the hundreds of responses this post generated here and on Facebook. Curious to find out which books were mentioned the most? See this post for a top ten list.