Dear Aunt Debbie,
It is such a gift to be on vacation in a quiet place, a place removed from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Or at least, as removed as you can be with a 3 1/2 year old and a 10 month old in tow.
We brought a small selection of books with us for the plane and the week away: a few board books, a few longer picture books, and one chapter book to see if it would work for Eleanor. I'm happy to report that it did, and that the reason it did has everything to do with the extraordinary illustrations of Inga Moore.
The book is a somewhat abridged version of The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. I'm not sure exactly how abridged it is -- clearly, it's had a few chapters cut out, but the chapters which remain don't feel heavily edited. I don't know the original text well enough to tell how much has been taken out; I think I read it as a kid, but it didn't leave a huge impression. That is clearly because I didn't have Inga Moore's illustrations to look at while I was reading.
What stuck from my childhood was a vague memory of Mr. Toad running around the countryside madly, which he does. I may have remembered his obsession with motor-cars. What I didn't remember at all are the shadings of fond and close friendship between the Mole and the Water Rat. After reading aloud all week, I feel terribly fond of Mole, who is so thrilled by the life of the riverbank and the feel of the sun and being aboveground that he gives up his tunnel home and moves in with Ratty for the duration of the book. Mole is appreciative of the world around him, and reading Grahame's words and looking at Moore's drawings, the English countryside and riverbank come to life.
I am without my scanner, so the best I could do was to take a picture of one illustration and upload that; I'll scan in a few choice pages when we get home (done!).
You can see how expressive everybody is: Mole's sweet little face, Mr. Badger's instructional tone, the Water Rat's alertness.
The text alone would not have held Eleanor: this is absolutely a book for older kids. But the drawings pulled her in -- there is a drawing on almost every single page, some threaded through the text:
some a double-page spread:
Especially when we got to Mr. Toad's adventures, she was rapt, and able later in the day to recount all the major plot points to her grandparents (who gave her this beautiful book).
It's interesting to read this as an adult and recognize Toad as the portrait of an addict. His friends, led by Mr. Badger, have a major intervention to cure him of his self-destructive motor-car buying and crashing behavior, and when they lock him in his room, he goes through withdrawal symptoms (see text of small picture, above). Toad's exploits are funny, but also kind of disturbing: he lies, steals, is thrown in jail, escapes to lie and steal again. He's never exactly repentant. But there's something Mark Twainish about him, more than just the riverbank setting, a kind of craftiness that you have to enjoy even as you deplore it. Mole and Ratty and Mr. Badger clearly feel the same way, and stay with him through it all. I'm looking forward to reading it again.