Dear Aunt Debbie,
The Ramona excerpt makes me want to run right out and get a bunch of Beverly Cleary books. I read a few as a kid, but never became a huge fan of hers, not the way I was with Judy Blume or, later, Madeline L'Engle. For some reason, I had a Cleary/Blume opposition in my mind: I felt like I had to choose one of them, rather than reading both. Why I thought that, I have no idea. Looking for a team rivalry, but not interested in following sports?
Because Eleanor is so into stories, and her attention span for books is really quite good, we've tried a number of books over the last year that she was interested in but ultimately too young for: Mary Poppins,The Jungle Book, Little House in the Big Woods. They're all great books, and their time will come. A couple of your suggestions, however, have helped us get started on chapter books.
The Riverside Kids books, by Johanna Hurwitz, are perfect first chapter books. Unfortunately, some of them are out of print, but we've found a number in our library system, and you can find most of them pretty cheaply online. Here's a place where I'd try Alibris if IndieBound didn't get you what you were looking for.
The books focus on kids in two different families living in an apartment building in New York. Each book contains six linked stories which can be read together or stand alone (helpful at bedtime when you don't want to read all night). Nora and her little brother Teddy are the protagonists of the first two books: Busybody Nora and Superduper Teddy. Their neighbor Russell and his little sister Elisa star in some of the later ones: Rip-Roaring Russell, Russell and Elisa, and others. There's a complete list of them on Hurwitz's website.
We sat down with Busybody Nora, and Eleanor was rapt -- she wanted us to read the whole thing that day, and then asked for specific stories over and over in the days and weeks that followed. Her favorite is "Nora the Baby-Sitter," in which a miscommunication between two moms leaves five-year-old Nora in charge of her three-year-old brother and two-year-old neighbor for most of a day. There's some sweet misbehavior, but everything turns out fine, which sums up the tone of most of the stories. Hurwitz knows exactly how much plot a little kid can handle in one story. The prose isn't always gorgeous, but the stories tap into small desires and worries that little kids have. Eleanor refers to incidents in these books regularly.
I have a habit of tucking a slim book into the back of the diaper bag when we're going on a long subway ride. It has to be the right kind of book: enough stories to keep us occupied for a while, high-interest, not too big or bulky, paperback. Our current diaper bag book is The Jamie and Angus Stories, by Anne Fine, another of your excellent presents.
The Jamie and Angus Stories
I love Fine's tone in these stories. Jamie reads like a real kid, thoughtful and curious, and his relationship with the stuffed Highland bull Angus is creative and sweet. I love the adults in the stories too, the way you can hear Jamie's parents and Uncle Edward and Granny letting a little dry wit into their conversations with him. It's not at all treacly, but feels both warm and realistic. Eleanor's favorite story, by far, is "Strawberry Creams," the one in which Jamie, hospitalized for an unexplained stomach ailment, steals his hospital roommate's last 3 chocolates and then feels intensely guilty about it. This story prompted Eleanor's first real discussion of guilt, which is nice, because toddlers are essentially immoral. Are the sequels as good?