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.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Classic starter chapter books

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Mr. Popper's Penguins! I have fond and foggy memories of that one. Will put it on my library list ASAP.

Reading about the Stuart Little problem reminded me that I wanted to write about Peter Pan. Eleanor got interested in the story through a perfectly awful Disney book we found among a host of other awful Disney books in our little local socialist coffee shop. (Great kids' area, super-left-leaning politics; I'm sure they have no idea that they're hooking my kid on capitalist culture.) She was, of course, fascinated, and I started thinking about ways to get her the real story. I looked back at the original J.M. Barrie book and realized immediately that it wouldn't hold her attention.

Peter Pan (Classic Starts)

What I found, after a little digging, was the Classic Starts version, which is a thoughtful, well-abridged retelling that captures the spirit of the original but is appropriate for younger kids. I don't know whether the other Classic Starts books are as good, but this one held Eleanor's attention for a first read-through that took a few days, and she's picked it up several times since and asked for specific bits of the story. Like the Wizard of Ozwhich we keep linking to, it's an abridgment I can get behind.

Another big hit in our house these days is the original Winnie the Pooh. We've been reading A.A. Milne's poetry to Eleanor for quite some time: When We Were Very Young is a fabulous collection, filled with lots of nonsense and infectious rhythm and rhyme.

When We Were Very Young

Eleanor's favorites include "Disobedience" ("James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree, Took great care of his Mother, though he was only three.") and "Lines and Squares," about cleverly avoiding the bears that will get you if you step on any lines on the sidewalk. My heart will always go to "The King's Breakfast," in which the king "only wants a little bit of butter for his bread." (Now I want to go grab the book off the shelf and read them all.)

Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh has stories of the right length for a little kid, and all the animals are oddly crotchety and absent-minded and fun to read. I think it will get better with time, too -- Eleanor is just at the beginning of getting it. And of course Pooh sings all the time, and makes up little rhymes. It's nice to come back to an old favorite that has been overcommercialized and realize that the original is a good and gentle thing.

Love, Annie

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