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.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On entering Narnia

Dear Aunt Debbie,

The ALA convention sounds fabulous; I've put The Lion and the Mouse on our library hold list, and am jonesing to read Rebecca Stead now as well.  Thank you for keeping me up to date!

By contrast, the great pleasure I've had this past week has been a classic one.  On Thursday afternoon, Isabel was taking a long nap and I was tired of the particular stack of library books Eleanor kept returning to, so I picked up Jeff's childhood copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe just to see if it would take.  It took.  We've been reading a few chapters a day, at Eleanor's request, and finished the book tonight.  I have been in heaven.

In the last three years I've read Eleanor dozens of books I remember from my own childhood.  Why, then, does reading her C.S. Lewis bring me such intense joy?  I think part of it is that I remember my own introduction to Narnia.  Because I was so young when they were read to me, my memories of picture books are of re-readings, but I have a vivid emotional memory of my father first reading to me about Aslan's death: sadness, discomfort and even embarrassment with the ways the White Witch and her cronies abuse him, confusion over his coming back to life.  (It was much, much later that I realized Narnia was a Christian allegory.)  Over the course of several years, my father read me all seven of the books, and we returned to them again and again.

I know Eleanor is too young to understand a lot of what is going on in this book.  But I was pleased to find that Lewis's sentences are smooth and clear and easy to read; except for the children's kingly and queenly language at the end, the language is never obtuse.  Edmund is cringingly real and human, Lucy is plucky and forthright, and Susan and Peter are sort of parental (does any child ever actually relate to them?).  As we read, Eleanor kept stopping me to insert herself into the narrative, not as a character, but as herself: "But that's when I came in, and I saved Mr. Tumnus and told him the Witch was coming, and we had dinner together."  She untied Aslan, too, before the girls and the field mice got to it.  Her attention certainly wandered at points, but she has also asked that we bring this book on our plane trip this weekend, so we can read it again.

Eleanor's interest was piqued partly by the gorgeous Michael Hague illustrations in our copy (which I'm pretty sure I've found here, through Alibris, though the cover image is wrong).  These are the pictures I've used in this post (we finally have a working scanner, hoorah!).  In terms of holding her attention and giving her something to focus on as I read, the pictures were vital.

And so we begin!

Love, Annie

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe Eleanor is ready for Narnia. I tried reading Rebekah Beverly Cleary's Ribsy, in which the dog Ribsy gets lost, and she was way too traumatized after the first chapter to continue (even though at the end of the first chapter we read the last two pages of the book so she'd know that Ribsy did eventually make it home!). She would never make it through the White Witch or Aslan's murder. Kids are so different!