It was Stella’s 5th birthday recently so I got her way too many books, mainly longer chapter books, the kind that she’ll want (I hope) to keep on her shelf until she’s very old. The birthday list:
- A Little History of the World: found it on a dad’s blog about reading to his kid. This dad insisted all his kids, including a 5 year old, loved it. Stella won’t let me open it! But I do love how this book is written and am biding my time.
- Mrs. Piggle Wiggle: both my kids adore this book. Whenever there is upset or unhappiness in the house, I can suggest why don’t we all read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and the mood instantly brightens. Though the book was written in 1947, and okay, okay, it has a very let’s call it “quaint” image of motherhood, it does amaze me that the problems Mrs. Piggle Wiggle solves are the same exact ones I’m facing, such as constant sibling fighting, or trouble sharing, or no one wanting to pick up after themselves. Only I don’t have Mrs. Piggle Wiggle! I found the sequel Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s Magic a bit too….magical though my kids loved it too. Writing is nice and sharp in both books in any case.
- Pippi Longstocking: a nice illustrated version illustrated by Lauren Child (see why I love this book)
- Treasure Island: still probably should not read this to Stella quite yet but at least it has pictures! And at least this version is not abridged (though it is huge!)
- A very bad translation of Pinocchio: I had such an amazing experience reading Jasper this book about two years ago. It was some older version from the library with not the greatest illustrations but a very strong translation. This version, part of the Candlewick Illustrated Classics, is a bad translation of Pinocchio with really strange pictures. Don’t do it! (we are trying this version now instead— if Umberto Eco is writing the introduction, it has to be a better translation, right?).
Realizing Treasure Island still should not be read to a 5 year old, and Stella is not into a Small History of the World, I also decided to get her, post-birthday, a few more books:
- the 5 book set of color illustrated Little House on the Prairie Books: how could you go wrong? The only downside is the books are heavy (because the paper is coated and thick) – but we brought one on vacation anyway.
- a color version of Charlotte’s Web: I love that publishers are going back and tastefully adding color to children’s classics. Stella and I read this book together over the past few weeks and it was a great reading experience for us both. I was worried of course whether Stella was ready to have a beloved character die, so I kept preparing her for it as we neared the end. She was totally fine while I was the one crying–it is sad, even if you’re ready for it!
Here are some other books that Stella (now 5) and I have loved reading together lately.
- The Secret Garden: this illustrated version (drawings by Inga Moore) is amazing. I love how the pictures just explode across the pages when the garden comes to life. The beginning starts out so perfectly — India, an orphan, a hunchback, an old house, the sound of someone crying– and then the book becomes…about the garden of course. It’s beautiful writing, and a beautiful almost metaphysical message, but perhaps it struck me as a little slow at points, especially compared to say the Wizard of Oz. I was impressed Stella was able to keep with it but I think she fell in love with all the characters. The pictures really helped. It did make me want to garden at some point in my life.
- The Wizard of Oz: our third time through. This is really one of the perfect books to read to a young child. The chapters are just the right length, Dorothy is the ideal gentle heroine, her companions are just the sort of people that you’d want to take with you on a long journey.
- Ozma of Oz: We tried reading The Land of Oz once together (the second book in the series) and I had to put it down, after an army of girls starting doing foolish, boring and old-fashioned things, in my opinion. But Ozma of Oz! Though I read all the Oz books as a kid, this is the one I remember as a child. It also appears on the 100 best children’s novels by the School Library Journal.
- Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass: Stella has been reading these two books with her dad Harold for the last two months. Lucky guy. I tried reading Alice in Wonderland to Stella about a year ago but she found the language too wild. She’s enjoying it much more now, especially since Harold tends to act the scenes out using crazy voices. For Alice in Wonderland, I love the version illustrated by Alison Jay, which is able to capture the beautiful surrealism of the setting. With Through the Looking Glass, there are fewer options — Helen Oxenburg’s seemed the best.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Stella claimed to have no interest. But come on, chocolate! A factory! I was finally able to convince her. I do wish a full color, more realistically illustrated version would come out though. Maybe Inga Moore could do it? Stella ended up loving this book. We brought it on a 2 week vacation to the Canadian Rockies and it was the perfect book to read to both kids during our time on the road. Stella’s disappointment when Charlie didn’t find the ticket at first — and her joy when Charlie finally uncovered the ticket (pictured above) — was so moving to me. She is really able to feel the emotions of the characters which is why reading must be so pleasurable to her.
- Ramona, Age 8: Though it felt a little over Stella’s head at times — no one in kindergarten can be as mean as Yard Ape (at least I hope that’s true) — she loved many parts of this book. Poor Ramona cracking a raw egg onto her head! Poor Ramona throwing up in class in front of everybody! I read this book many times as a kid of course but perhaps enjoy it even more as an adult — the book captures the moods of a family so well, and is so compassionate toward the irritations and disappointments of the parents, of Ramona’s mom and dad, even when seen from an 8 year old’s eyes. I love the descriptions of the grumpy Sunday when everyone in the family is miserable, which in turns makes everyone else more miserable, and the misery feeds upon misery until finally the father demands everyone must out to eat and they will enjoy themselves if it kills them all. What parent can’t relate to days of misery like that? It’s lovely to read about a relatively unplugged childhood as well, other than the occasional TV. The fact that the book can appeal to such a degree to kids and adults simultaneously is pretty amazing. Stella and I are both excited to read Ramona the Pest (where Ramona is in kindergarten) very soon.
Books I’m considering whether to read with Stella soon
- Ella, Enchanted: I’m on the fence about this one. I love this book and I know, all common sense says to wait a few more years. But Stella loves fairy tales and Ella is such a strong character (and I love this book!). If only it had a few pictures….
- The Penderwicks: I read this awhile ago and found it enjoyable. Since there are some small children, I’m thinking it would hold Stella’s interest. But maybe next year.
Books I probably should read to Stella but am dragging my feet
- Anything with talking animals. Wind and the Willows, the Rats of Nihm, the Mouse and the Motorcycle, Catwings (even if it’s by Ursula LeGuin!), Beatrix Potter (thankfully Harold loves Beatrice Potter). I have a totally irrational aversion to animals who talk. Hobbits are fine, and okay so is the original Winnie the Pooh, but all the other talking creatures of the forest? Can’t do it. I don’t quite understand it myself.