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 30, 2014

Classics for the e-reader

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I agree with you about the generally anodyne quality of Eric Hill's Spot books -- nothing wrong with them, they're just not that interesting. But even before watching that wonderful video of Hill reading aloud Where's Spot? with different voices, I confess I've always liked the understated weirdness of the book. Why are there wild animals hiding in every nook and cranny of Spot's house? Totally unexplained. Sally, the searching mother dog, seems completely unperturbed by a bear, a lion, a hippopotamus. A crocodile under the pink ruffly bedcover? Yeah, whatever. Especially when compared to Spot Goes to the Farm (spoiler alert: he discovers farm animals) and the other Spot books, Where's Spot? gives you something to work with.

A brief respite of health has given way to another virus for Will, on the eve of our vacation and then -- gulp -- our move to a new house at the end of July. We're all feeling a little discombobulated. A friend of mine recently asked for recommendations for toddler-appropriate books about moving to a new house -- any good ideas? We took one out of the library a little while ago about a girl moving to a new house with her stuffed animal elephant, who grows to her size and has a tea party with her. I can't for the life of me remember the title, but it had what I assume is the basic Moving Narrative: "This new house is strange. I discover things I like about it! I make a friend! This new house is great."

Come to think of it, are there any Moving Books you'd recommend for Eleanor and Isabel's ages? Eleanor, in particular, is feeling deeply nostalgic about leaving the apartment where she's lived her whole life, and concerned about what it will feel like to move. Maybe it's time for Anastasia Krupnik.

Packing the right books (and enough of them) for vacation with children of different ages has always posed some difficulty for me. This year we face a longer trip than usual, and Eleanor's increased reading speed -- she's devouring roughly a chapter book a day this summer -- had me stymied. Help came from my awesome mother, who has loaned us her Kindle and given us permission to load it up with Eleanor-appropriate books. This is a great travel solution. I've already borrowed several books from the library -- Ruth Chew, Edward Eager -- and have found a motherload of free classics.

I have very mixed feelings about Amazon as a company, and about reading on a device rather than holding paper and ink in my hands. Still, it's hard not to love the ability to download classic fairy tales for free, not to mention E. Nesbit (seriously -- we still haven't written about E. Nesbit?), Treasure Island, all the Oz books, and more. The Amazon site does a poor job of aggregating these together into a decent list, which I found surprising. In searching around online, I came across this blog, which pulls together a number of interesting choices.

Among them: the Twins series, by Lucy Fitch Perkins. In each of these books, published between 1911 and 1938, Perkins writes about a pair of twins living in a country somewhere in the world (The Scotch twins, The Eskimo Twins, The Italian Twins). Some are set in the early 1900s, and some are historical fiction. I remember reading The Spartan Twins in what must have been a book from your parents' childhood, and being fascinated by elements of Spartan culture. This blog has an excellent rundown of the plots of the books, and notes how many of them deal subtly with the sexism inherent in many of the cultures profiled. I may need to sneak the Kindle away from Eleanor at some point over vacation to refresh my memory.

She hasn't waited for vacation to start dipping into it, of course. On non-school nights, we allow the girls to stay up with reading lights in bed. Earlier this week, Eleanor emerged an hour and a half past bedtime, raving about how much she loved Edward Eager's Seven-Day Magic: "The adventure they're having is exactly the kind of adventure I'd like to have!"

One of the perils of the e-reader format: she thought she was reading E. Nesbit's Five Children and It. (Both books center on five children finding a magical creature.) Eleanor caught a reference to Half Magic, and assumed that E. Nesbit was writing after Edward Eager. When I explained that it was the opposite -- that Eager had been inspired by Nesbit, and sometimes wrote about her in his books -- Eleanor practically jumped up and down: "That is SO COOL!"

Not for the first time: I love raising a reader.

Love, Annie

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