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 29, 2014

Four years of Annie and Aunt!

Dear Aunt Debbie,

As I was sitting down to write this post, I realized that we've just hit our 4-year mark: We began Annie and Aunt on April 27, 2010, when Eleanor was 3, Isabel was a baby, and Will wasn't even a thought in anybody's mind. Time flies. Happy anniversary!

While our posting regularity has slipped in the last year or so since Will's birth, I continue to love writing to you about the books I'm reading with my kids, and to love learning from you about books old and new. Here's to another great year to come!

A family reading update:

In the last couple of weeks, we've gone on spring break and returned, tired and happy. Eleanor brought The Fairy's Return with her to Florida and read it obsessively (see new picture to the upper right) -- that's a book with staying power. It's lovely to see her reading it independently now, since it started for us three years ago as a read-aloud.

Together, Isabel and Eleanor and I are moving through the Chronicles of Narnia. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was our vacation reading. It's a far more rollicking adventure than Prince Caspian, filled with visits to islands inhabited by strange creatures and teeming with unexpected dangers. Kind of an elementary-school version of The Odyssey, without all the death.

Only Lucy and Edmund Pevensie are in this book, Peter and Susan having been deemed too old to return to Narnia. What enlivens the narrative most is the bad behavior of the Pevensies' cousin Eustace Scrubb, who comes along for the ride. He's a perfect pill of a boy until he gets turned into a dragon about halfway through the book (it's his own fault, and he turns out okay). C.S. Lewis is at his best when he has normal, changeable, imperfect kids to write about. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund plays the role of stinker, and his bad behavior gives the other kids something to play off of. By the end of the book, however, he's redeemed, and in Prince Caspian all four Pevensie children are terribly decent throughout. While I'd love to see my own children be so polite, functional, and moral, it's not as interesting a story to read.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader begins with Eustace, and you know immediately you're in for some fun:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and his masters called him Scrubb. I can't tell you how his friends spoke to him for he had none. He didn't call his Father and Mother "Father" and "Mother", but Harold and Alberta. They were very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers and tee-totallers, and wore a special kind of underclothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on beds and the windows were always open.

Eustace Clarence liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools.

Eustance Clarence disliked his cousins, the four Pevensies -- Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. But he was quite glad when he heard that Edmund and Lucy were coming to stay. For deep down inside him he liked bossing and bullying; and, though he was a puny little person who couldn't have stood up even to Lucy, let alone Edmund, in a fight, he knew that there are dozens of ways to give people a bad time if you are in your own home and they are only visitors.

While Eustace becomes reformed over the course of the voyage, he retains his personality. He and a classmate of his, a girl named Jill Pole, are the two humans transported to Narnia in the next book, The Silver Chair. We're a few chapters in, and Jill and Eustace's minor bickering is highly entertaining. The narrative -- they've been sent by Aslan to find the lost prince of Narnia and bring him home, and are headed into giant country -- is gripping. We're clearly going to be reading all seven of the books in a row.

Will's current favorite is a book you gave Isabel three years ago: Nina Laden's excellent board book Peek-a WHO? We read it over and over, and he laughs every time.

Your gifts keep on giving.

Love, Annie

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