In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Getting started, Wizard of Oz

Dear Aunt Debbie,

You started giving me fabulous picture books when I was a little kid, and have been an extraordinary book recommender all my life. Now that I'm a mom (of Eleanor, age 3, and Isabel, 7 months), your recommendations and gifts have become a vital part of our home library. After the umpteenth conversation with parent friends of mine about what we're reading with Eleanor these days, and the thousandth time I've recommended a book you sent us, I think it's time we take our conversation public.

For now, every time we mention a book, we'll link to it via the website Indie Bound, which will let readers buy the books at a local independent bookstore. Perhaps in the future we can link to your awesome store, Child's Play -- Eleanor still remembers our visit there last summer, seeing all the books we have at home and greeting them like old friends: "There's Frances! There's Nora! There's Max and Ruby!"

It's funny that you've started by posting about Piggie Pie, because it's not one of my favorites. I find the drawings a little disturbing -- they're so close-up, in your face, like the camera has gone crazy, and I think the witch is creepy. My parents have a copy of it, and we haven't read it in a while, so I'll go back and revisit it with Eleanor the next time we're over there. I honestly don't remember her reaction to it, just mine. But I find myself pulling away from reading her books I don't like. Sometimes at the library she picks something dreadful, and then of course that's the book she wants me to read her three times a day for the next three weeks.

We are still obsessed at our house with one of your best ever recommendations: the abridged L. Frank Baum Wizard of Oz illustrated by Charles Santore.

Wizard of Oz (Santore illustrations)

It has the most extraordinary watercolor paintings -- bright, vivid, imaginative. They feel informed by the movie, but not of it. Eleanor spends half an hour at a time sitting on the floor turning the pages and just looking at all the pictures, and she wants us to read her pieces of the book (it takes several sittings to finish) all the time. We play "Wizard of Oz" a lot these days: she's Dorothy, of course, and I'm the Tin Woodsman; Isabel is Toto, the fate I suppose of younger siblings everywhere. The only downside of the gorgeous big pages of this book is that she's ripped the bottoms of a few by turning them on her own so much. I've already bought five copies of it to give to friends with kids the same age or slightly older -- it's just so beautiful. Thanks again for that one.

Love, Annie


  1. Hi Annie!

    First comment! I don't know much about American children's books (my fave Russian ones are Про Веру и Анфису and Дядя Фёдор, Пёс и Кот) but though the site you linked to I found out that there is an independent bookstore not too far from me! I've lived in this neighborhood since 1994 and had no idea. I'm going to have to check it out.


  2. Hello, my sister and my niece: congratulations on starting your book blog! Looking forward to your suggestions--
    Brother/Uncle Al

  3. I have an instinctive aversion to abridged books - is this version of the Wizard of Oz the exception that proves the rule?

  4. Rachel -- Yes! Granted, I was never a devoted re-reader of the original L. Frank Baum, but reading this one aloud to Eleanor, I have fallen in love with it. It's all Baum's original language, and you don't feel the gaps. I think it will also set Eleanor up beautifully for the full-length books when she's a little older.

  5. Rachel -- I just want to second Annie's comment. I'm also a pretty intense anti-abridgment person. As she said, it is Baum's actual words, just fewer of them. And for kids who are just getting used to can't-read-it-all-in-one-sitting books, it does move a little faster. You know that Kansas is drab and boring, but it doesn't take a whole chapter to tell you. It eliminates some back-stories, such as how the Tin Woodsman became tin. That one's a little grisly: it was limb by limb (hostile enchantment of the ax).