Tag Archives: classics

Usborne Illustrated Stories of Princes & Princesses

My younger daughter’s current favorite book is the Usborne Illustrated Stories of Princes and Princesses. We are big fans of the Illuustrated Stories series in general because of their gorgeous illustrations and ability to take well known stories and bring them to younger audiences at an age appropriate level (Shakespeare for an 8 year old!). What sets this particular book apart is the fact that it brings forth many lesser known fairy tales from a variety of cultures and it is a book focusing on princesses, but without that common thread of princess needs saving from prince.

Usborne Book of the Week

E found this book in our catalog and started begging for it, so of course I bought it, since I’m a sucker for that desire. We were quickly surprised by the content of the stories. Many are well known tales like Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Sleeping Beauty, and the Frog Prince. But then there are stories that have never made their way into my fairy tale loving family – The Princess and the Glass Hill, Princess Nobody, and the Seven Ravens, for example. Each story is beautifully told with illustrations and an easy to read font. Continue reading →

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It’s all about Perspective

Last summer when the Battle of the Books list came out, I printed out a copy hoping to encourage J to read some of the books over the summer to expand her reading options even though she knew should wouldn’t be allowed to be on the team this year. It was a nice thought on my part, but even though she thought a bunch of the titles sounded good, she really did not care to read them. I actually started reading a number of them on my own, but completely dropped the subject with her. Over winter break, she decided on her own that she was ready to tackle the list.

The first book that she read after making this decision was Tuck Everlasting. She had already read The Lemonade War and Because of Winn-Dixie, and I think she picked Tuck because it had been brought up at our last kids’ book club as an option of a book that has a movie. The main theme of Tuck Everlasting is the notion of immortality and whether it is a blessing or a curse. The Goodreads synopsis says:

tuck everlasting“Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.”

I was actually hoping to read it before she got a chance, but I wasn’t fast enough. I did wind up reading a chunk of the middle with her, but only because she still enjoys our reading time together before bed. J really enjoyed it and is now thrilled by the notion that there is a Broadway musical coming out. She understood that eternal life isn’t something that we would necessarily want to have, to watch those you love die before you. I think the other reason that she liked the book was because the characters were so well developed and real, even with their ability to never die.

The second book that she read, which got me thinking about the theme of perspective, is “A Dog’s Life – The Autobiography of  a Stray.” In Tuck Everlasting you are considering the notion of eternal life. From the outside, it might sound rather appealing, but when you go through the experience yourself, there are many challenges that come up and make living forever not such an enticing goal. The book A Dog’s Life does a really exceptional job of considering the world from a dog’s perspective from birth through to old age. This dog happens to also be a stray whose life gets impacted tremendously by the other people, both human and animal, that are in her life.

dog's life

The Goodreads synopsis of A Dog’s Life says: “Squirrel and her brother Bone begin their lives in a toolshed behind someone’s summer house. Their mother nurtures them and teaches them the many skills they will need to survive as stray dogs. But when their mother is taken from them suddenly and too soon, the puppies are forced to make their own way in the world, facing humans both gentle and brutal, busy highways, other animals, and the changing seasons. When Bone and Squirrel become separated, Squirrel must fend for herself, and in the process makes two friends who in very different ways define her fate.”

A Dog’s Life is incredibly far away from the books that J would typically tend to read, yet she absolutely loved it. Author Ann Martin writes with simplicity and clarity and makes even non-dog lovers feel for her characters. When a family treats Squirrel with cruelty, J and I had a conversation on how people could be that way and how important it is to care for others. There were so many moments in this book that resonated with us and brought out strong feelings.

When I asked J what she liked the most with A Dog’s Life, she really enjoyed that it was from the dog’s perspective and written in her voice. She had done work in her third grade class on perspective before winter break, but this seemed to impact her on a stronger level then writing a short piece. I’m just glad that she’s understanding things on a variety of levels and enjoying stories that stray from the predictable.

I am lucky that J loves to read as much as she does. We are looking forward to the time when she can officially be on the Battle of the Books team. She struggles with the fact that her classmates read books so that they can take reading counts tests on them. She loves books and doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body when it comes to them, she just wants to share her love of books with anyone who will listen to her, but she doesn’t want to quantify what she is reading. I think that she will thrive being allowed onto the Battle of the Books team next year so that she will have a group of people reading the same books and feeling them with the same sense of passion that she does and she could use a little drive of competition as well. For now, because she is reading things that many of her friends are not, if she wants to have a conversation about a book she either has one with me or else she finishes a book and tries to figure out which of her friends might read next.

It has been great to see her gain a different type of perspective on life by reading things that challenge her notions. The Battle of the Books will continue to allow her to get additional perspective and be surrounded by those who appreciate books the way that she does.

a lucky find – the lion, the witch and the wardrobe

I went into one of our local used book stores the other day and made a great find – an illustrated abridged version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

I’ve wanted to bring J in to the world of Narnia for some time, but we started with The Magician’s Nephew and I believe she got bored. The story jumped around a lot. I think that The Lion is a more cohesive story and J immediately got sucked in to it. She thought I had brought home yet another library book and when she realized that she got to keep this one she was incredibly excited. I also purchased a used copy of the full The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe knowing that at some point in the not to distant future she would want to read that as well.

What makes this book special is that it is not a dumbed-down version of the story and it is filled with absolutely beautiful illustrations. There are other illustrated versions out there, we just got lucky to find this one at a used shop. The original is still the best, but sometimes these editions help draw our kids in.

Here are some other illustrated versions I was able to find online.

lion blue

aimed at ages 4-8

http://www.amazon.com/Lion-Witch-Wardrobe-Graphic-Novel/dp/0064433994/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389923988&sr=1-1&keywords=lion+witch+and+the+wardrobe+abridged

graphic novel – age 8+

 

Picture Book Challenge Week #2

We are finished with week #2 of the picture book challenge hosted by Child-Led Chaos. While we read a ton of books, I’m finding the process a tad challenging because my 6 year old is going through a phase where she refuses to read or listen to picture books. She only wants to read Land of Stories or Harry Potter. She doesn’t even want me reading to her at bedtime right now because we have book 2 of Land of Stories on audiobooks. My 3 year old more than makes up for it, but there was a day of a pile of board books, which I’m somewhat torn about posting.

The whole thing pains me because I have found some absolutely fabulous picture books lately at the library. I’m going to have to go against my general notion of what I planned for this blog to be and write about a few of those during this period of her reading such long books. There are just so many outstanding books out there!

Anyway, back to the challenge. We are at 45 books read. I have a feeling we will be climbing higher than 300. My younger daughter and I went to a bookstore this week and she handed me book after book to read. This is a section of what we read this week:
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Highlights from what we read…..

The Three Cabritos by Eric Kimmell is a retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff set in Texas where the three goats must cross a bridge over the Rio Grande in order to get into Mexico for a party. We have a soft spot for Eric Kimmell and this story didn’t disappoint.



Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter was a wonderful book that we read as part of our challenge to read more non-fiction picture books. I wrote more about it last week at this post.

Dancing With Degas by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober- This is one of my favorite board books. You get placed into Degas’ world of ballerinas with simple poetry and those stunning paintings. It is a great way to bring in the beauty of ballet to your child as well as introducing them to one of the great artists.

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson – I went looking for Monkey Puzzle after reading Claire’s post from last week’s link-up. I did find a copy at my local library, although it is called Where’s My Mom? in America. While there, I looked through her other books for ones we hadn’t read yet and found Stick Man. The Goodreads synopsis reads “Stick Man lives in the family tree with his Stick Lady Love and their stick children three. But it’s dangerous being a Stick Man. A dog wants to play with him, a swan builds her nest with him. He even ends up on a fire! Join Stick Man on his troublesome journey back to the family tree.” It was a cute story, though I wouldn’t say it was my favorite of hers (loved A Gold Star for Zog).

goldilocks dinosaursGoldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems – Loved this book. If you missed it, I wrote about it here.

Surprise in the Kitchen by Mary Lee – We downloaded this for free on the Kindle at some point in the past and my three year old loves it. It is a sweet story about a little girl named Mia who loves it when her  mom cooks for her and wants to show her mom how much she loves her by making her breakfast in bed. Unfortunately, Mia does not like to cook and is too small to reach some items in the kitchen. She winds up making more of a mess than anything else, but sometimes it is truly the thought that counts.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs #3: Planet of the Pies by Judi Barrett – I don’t generally write negative reviews if I can help it, but I did not like this book. I think it was a tie in with the 2nd movie and in my mind they should have left it at that. The first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is one of my all time favorites and the sequel to that was decent. Don’t let this book color your judgement on a classic tale.

Daddy Kisses by Anne Gutman – This is such a fun book to read with a small child. Each animal daddy kisses his child in various places – on the nose, the neck, the paw…And then my daddy kisses me all over. Even as a mom reading it to her child, it is so fun to shower your child with kisses all over at the end of the story and it is a great way to have really little ones learn various body parts.

Picture Book Challenge Week #1

So we are done with week #1 of our 300 picture books in 2014 challenge hosted by Child Led Chaos. This week was pretty easy since all books read were considered “new,” at least the first time we read them this week.  I’m only counting them if I’ve actually read them to one of the girls, and this week I’ve read 15. That’s a pretty decent number, especially considering that these days J is usually reading to me from one of her longer books. I enjoyed keeping track of what we were reading on Goodreads.

Looking at the books now, it really is a random smattering of books – some pulled from our shelves, some library. As they get older, there really does seem to be a desire to only read new picture books, so  most of J’s books are ones we picked from the library and E is pulling randomly from her bookshelf at bedtime. Some of these books I love and some I dread when I see them for the umpteenth time.  I’m not going to go into great depth on all of them, but I will say a few words about some.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 10.14.12 PM

Corduroy is always a favorite. Classic, timeless and always wonderful.

Isabella: Star of the Story is a fun book that I talked about on a previous post. Every time we go to the library, E pulls this one off of the shelf. It is currently still in the “new” section so it is really easy to find, but she just loves it. The pictures are bright and colorful and it takes us into so many stories that we already love.

Fairy Houses is was a wonderfully sweet book. A little girl goes on vacation with her family and her parents tell her there will be a special treat waiting for her. The treat is that people have built fairy houses and that people are encouraged to build more houses as long as they adhere to the rules of not using pieces that are alive or artificial. The girl, Kristen, starts to build a house and each day she adds to her creation. Each day, she also comes back and finds animals enjoying the pieces that she has put onto her fairy house. It is wonderful reminder to be kind to nature and to find joy in outdoor activities

Bear Snores On is the first in a series that a close friend gave us. This is my favorite of all of those books and incredibly fun to read. A cast of animals comes into a hibernating bear’s cave and have a party while he sleeps. When he wakes up unexpectedly, he is very upset to have been left out of the fun. It has great rhythm and places to use voices. A great winter-time book.

The Mitten is also a great classic tale that is winter appropriate. A little boy asks his grandmother to knit him a pair of white mittens and when he loses one in the snow, a number of animals find their way into it, stretching it way past capacity. It is fun to look through the pictures and see what other items you can see and to watch the little boy in the side images, completely unaware of the home his mitten has become. I love that at the end he gives his grandmother both mittens – one completely stretched out and one normal.

Sunshine Makes the Seasons, Mary Walker Wears the Pants, I Want to Go to the Moon and Manfish are non-fiction picture books that I will be talking about on a slower basis for my non-fiction picture book challenge. We got a lot of really great books at the library to end our winter vacation and will continue to have great fun with this challenge.

To see more of the week 1 linked blogs, click here.

Cinderella – The tale told around the world

You didn’t think I could stop with Little Red Riding Hood, did you? When I was finding those books in the library, various Cinderella tales attracted my attention as well. In fact, I almost find Cinderella more amazing because it truly is a multicultural phenomenon. Every country seems to have its own take on the story and it is an amazing way to see how similar we all are throughout our differences.

cinderella collage

Walt Disney’s Cinderella
disneyI know it seems crazy to start with this, but those of us with children know this story the best. My 3 year old listened to some of the other Cinderella stories below and would make comments about how she liked the Cinderella with the yellow hair better. In this version, Cinderella is friends with the animals, the mice talk, and the fairy godmother makes everything possible for our heroine. It is a prettified version of the Brothers Grimm version, but loved by children around the world.

Cinderella
mcclintockBarbara McClintock’s version of Cinderella is based on the French telling of the story, complete with stately French dresses. The illustrations in this version are what make it stunning and it most closely mirrors the story that most of us think of when we envision Cinderella. In this tale, as in the original, Cinderella is a very kind soul even when confronted with the cruelty of her step-sisters. She offers them oranges at the ball and yearns for their friendship. In the end, she forgives them their cruelty and finds husbands for both of her sisters.

Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella
This is an incredibly fun take on the Cinderella story. The Bigfoot prince is a nature lover looking for a bride. All of the female bigfoots want to win his love, but it is Rrrrella, with her big feet, ability to knock him off a log, and hatred of wearing flowers that wins his love. A completely unexpected twist on the old classic.

Adelita – A Mexian Cinderella Story
adelita spreadTomie dePaola’s imaginative retelling is absolutely beautiful. No princesses, no fairies, no magic other than love. In this tale, Adelita’s mother dies early on, but her nanny Esperenza helps raise her. Her father remarries a cold woman who of course gets worse after Adelita’s father dies. Adelita spends her time in the kitchen to be near Esperenza and bask in her love, until Doña Micaela sends Esperenza away. When the family is invited to a party and Adelita is left home, Esperenza swoops in like the fairy godmother. When Adelita goes to the party, she asks to be called Cinderella. The young man of course falls in love with her and the book ends with a happy ending. The magic to me was how real the story felt. The splashes of Spanish and the sheer simplicity in the story are charming. My 6 year old also loved it, even though my 3 year old still prefers the Disney version.

The Orphan – A Cinderella story from Greece
orphan insideThis is not the Greek version, per se. The author’s note says that it is inspired by 2 Greek versions. In this tale, they are paying homage to the original notion of Cinderella going to a second ball and losing her glass slipper there, however, instead of a ball, everyone tries to gain the prince’s favor at a church service. The authors also note that they had their Cinderella “step out of the traditional role in which she waits patiently for her prince.” Rather than wait in the cinders, she heeds the words of her dead mother and gets herself to the church to meet the prince. An interesting take on the classic tale and a nice look at Greek culture.

Gospel Cinderella
Joyce Carol Thomas creates a completely different take on the classic tale in this version. Here, Cinderella is separated from her mother, Queen Mother Rhythm, after a hurricane and is taken in by the mean Crooked Foster Mother who wants a kitchen hand. Years later, the Great Gospel Choir is looking for a new lead singer. Cinderella has her mother’s voice, but of course is not allowed to audition. She is drawn to the gospel convention anyway and wows everyone, then disappears. In the end, she is found and reunited with her mother. A beautiful story that portrays the importance of gospel and music in the African American community.

Ella’s Big Chance
ella spreadShirley Hughes transforms the Cinderella story with the glamour of the jazz age. Ella Cinders is a top-notch dress maker in her father’s shop. Her father remarries a woman who changes everything at the shop making Ella’s life much harder. The only source of happiness in her life is her friendship with Buttons, the loyal delivery boy at the shop, who would sing songs and dance with Ella to remind them of happier times. Ella manages to go to a special party where she meets the Duke and he falls in love with her. The awesome twist is that Ella realizes that she doesn’t love the fancy Duke, but rather, her heart belongs to Buttons, her long-time friend and confidant. There is something completely charming about the fact that Ella doesn’t feel the need to run away with the prince/duke. Life isn’t about riches but instead about finding true happiness.

Yeh-Shen – A Cinderella story from China
This Chinese version of Cinderella pre-dates the European version we are so familiar with by about 1000 years. In this story, Yeh-Shen’s father had two wives who each bore a daughter, but Yeh-Shen’s mother dies when she is very young. The only friend that Yeh-Shen has is a fish that she caught and raised. Her step-mother kills the fish and cooks it for dinner. A spirit tells Yeh-Shen that there is power in the bones of the fish and it helps to keep her alive. When the spring festival comes, where Chinese go in hopes to find a husband or wife, Yeh-Shen is not allowed to go, but she asks the bones to help her borrow clothes fit to wear to the feast. She is given a beautiful dress and woven shoes and told not to lose the shoes. As she is leaving the party, since her sister found her familiar looking, she accidentally loses a slipper. The King gets hold of her second shoe and looks for its owner. Yeh-Shen gets the shoe back late at night when no one can see her and the King is entranced by her beauty. When she put both shoes on, she was once again transformed into the outfit she wore to the party. The King falls in love and they are married. It is very interesting to read a story so similar to our traditional Cinderella story.

Kongi and Potgi – A Cinderella story from Korea
kongi insideOki Han tells the story of Cinderella as her father told her as a child in Seoul, Korea. In this story, Kongi and Potgi are step-sisters. Kongi is treated poorly and made to do harder work while Potgi gets the soft bed and simpler tasks. Even though Kongi has to do more work, she never has a bad word to say about her step-mother or sister and when it seems a task is insurmountable, the animals always seem to lend her a hand. When a party was to be held for the prince to find a bride, Kongi’s step-mother tried to give her a task that could never be done in time. Thanks to birds who came to help and angels who gave her beautiful clothes, Kongi was able to go. The story ends with Kongi becoming Queen and even her step-mother and step-sister changing their ways and helping others. Both J and I really enjoyed this story. She liked the notion of it being similar to the original story but Kongi only having one sister. I like the fact that it is Kongi’s kindness that brings out the kindness in the animals. This is also one of the rare stories that doesn’t have both of Cinderella’s parents die. The illustrations and depictions of the Korean way of life are also wonderful.

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal – A Worldwide Cinderella
world singleThis book is amazing and the inside front cover puts it perfectly – “Once upon a time in Mexico…in Iran…in Ireland…in Zimbabwe…There lived a girl who worked all day in the rice fields…cooked in the royal kitchen…tended the cattle…then spent the night by the hearth, sleeping among the cinders. Her story has spanned centuries and continents, changing to match its surrounds.” This book manages to tell the Cinderella story from a variety of perspectives, each page showing what country the story is from, some pages going back and forth between different countries to show how the same story changes slightly from place to place – “And on the girl’s feet appeared a pair of glass slippers (France)…diamond anklets (India)…sandals of gold (Iraq).” This is a must read for all lovers of the Cinderella story.

worldwide spread

The Various Tales of Little Red Riding Hood

We all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood. A little girl is sent to deliver food to her sick grandma with the stern warning to stay on her path and not talk to strangers. On her way she meets a wolf who rushes to grandma’s house, eats her, then tricks and eats Little Red. In the end, the huntsman comes and miraculously saves them by cutting open the wolf.

But the amazing thing about classic fairy tales is that they have been told and retold by countless generations. J is currently in a production of Red Riding Hood and the kids are getting to help write their own version. That plus the fact that I was at the library the other day and randomly found the book Little Red Hot meant that this post was born – a fun look at adaptions at Little Red Riding Hood.

little red

One thing that I’ve noticed is that current tellings of the story often shy away from the violence of the wolf eating grandma or Little Red. Fairy tales were told to teach lessons to children and at times intended to scare them away from bad behaviors. In our world of highly protective parenting, we don’t seem to want to show them the scary consequences that can occur when they go and talk to strangers, which is the main point of Little Red. As awful as it might seem, kids still need to learn to stay away from the Big Bad Wolf.

photo 1Little Red Riding Hood – Adapted from the Brothers Grimm by Gennady Spirin
Of all of the versions that I could get my hands on, this one stays truest to the original Grimm version, down to her red cap rather than cloak. Little Red’s mother sends her off with the reminder to “mind your manners and do not leave the path for any reason.” The wolf is larger than life, fancily dressed. and he fiercely attacks Little Red’s grandmother. Upon hearing the wolf’s loud snores after his grand meal, the hunters manage to save Little Red and her grandmother and Little Red learns to never speak to strangers and always listen to her mother.

Little Red Riding Hood – The Brother’s Grimm, Illustrated by Bernadette Watts
This is the version the Brother’s Grimm wrote down that most of us know, complete with the red cap and the wolf being stuffed with stones at the end. The only reason that this one doesn’t resonate as much with me quite as much as the Gennady Spirin version is that the illustrations are too beautiful. The wolf is just a large dog and you never see him gobble anyone up. It is a lovely version, but less exciting and visually gripping for a young child.

photo 2Red Riding Hood – James Marshall
The James Marshall version is a well loved version that stays true to the original while being zany enough to capture a child’s attention. Marshall’s illustrations are a more modern, fun take on Little Red. The wolf in this tale was not vicious, instead he tricks her by being charming and well-mannered and, once he realizes that he can eat both of them, he offers to escort her to grandma’s. While she stops to pick flowers, he runs ahead and gobbles up granny. Another neighbor hears his post-feast snoring and comes to save the day. Red ends the story telling that she will never speak to strangers, “charming manners or not.”

The Wolf’s Story – Toby Forward
Since we all think we know what really happened that day in the woods, Toby Forward offers up the wolf’s side of the story. According to this story, the wolf was a health nut who did odd jobs for granny. Red had met him many times, but never really liked him. When granny accidentally knocks her head in the closet, the wolf panicked and tried to pretend he was granny.  He didn’t want to eat Little Red, but she tried to pop a sticky toffee in his mouth and he was jumping away from her. At that moment the huntsman came in and wolfy ran away. He’s looking for a new job now, so if you know anyone…It’s a cute looking at the fact that there is always another side of the story.

Little Red Hot – Eric Kimmel
Eric Kimmel takes us to Texas to meet Little Red Hot, a girl who loves to eat hot peppers…on everything. When granny gets ill, her mom asks her to stop by and Little Red Hot decides to make her a hot pepper pie to knock the cold germs out. On her way to granny’s, all of the cowboys warn her that Señor Lobo, the Big Bad Wolf, is out prowling. Señor Lobo tries to trick her that he is just a coyote who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Of course, he runs to grandma’s but she jumps out the window and runs away. The wolf pretends to be grandma and engages in the traditional “what big eyes” conversation with Little Red. However, when it gets to teeth, Little Red knows what they are for – “They’re for eatin’ this hot pepper pie” which she shoves into his mouth. Her hot pepper pie blows Señor Lobo through the roof and he’ll never be hurting her again. It doesn’t really teach the “don’t talk to strangers” lesson, but it is a very fun retelling of a classic tale.

Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood – Mike Artellpetite rouge inside
Rather than visiting Texas, Mike Artell takes us to Cajun country in this rendition which features a brave little duck dressed in red who had to bring some gumbo to her ailing grand-mére. What makes this story go over the top is that it is told in hilarious rhyme with Cajun flair – this is one that must be read aloud. Instead of a wolf, Petite Rouge is stopped by Claude the Crocodile who would like Petite Rouge to share some of her tasty goods with him. He can’t sneak up on Granny due to his size, so she runs next door. But Petite Rouge knows something is up with Claude’s green bumpy skin and her trusty cat TeJean soaks the boudin (sausage) that Claude wants with hot sauce. Grand-mére, Petite Rouge and TeJean all laugh themselves silly at ol’ Claude who thinks that he ate Petite Rouge and now thinks people are too hot for him. Definitely misses out on the “don’t talk to strangers” message, but stands firmly in the stick up for yourself and think on your feet boat.

salma insidePretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood Story from Africa – Niki Daly
This was a very different retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood Story that I’m not a huge fan of, but J really enjoys it and I do enjoy letting her see a culture that we don’t get in a lot of our books. The story is transported to West Africa where little Salma is sent to the market by her grandmother. She is told to go straight there and back without talking to strangers. After picking up all of her goods, Salma decides to take a short-cut home through the wild side of town. She sings her favorite song along the way and Mr. Dog, a very strange looking creature, offers to help her carry her basket. He slowly tricks her into giving him all of her clothing and told her that he wouldn’t give them back until she taught him her favorite song, so he could use it to trick her grandma. Salma starts to get frightened by him and he turns on her. She runs away and finds her grandfather dressed in his Anansi costume, telling stories. Grandfather doesn’t think the story has such a happy ending, so off they go to save Grandma. Grandma must be partially blind as she doesn’t seem to notice that Mr. Dog is not Salma until he takes a bath and she notices that he has a tail. Granny hides from the mean Mr. Dog in her cooking pot (?!?) and gets frightened away when Salma and Grandpa come to the door in their masks. “The next day, Granny sent Salma to market to buy new clothes. Salma went straight there and back. And she never talked to strangers again.”

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China – Ed Young
A friend whose daughter is also in our production of Little Red Riding Hood loaned us this version of the tale. In the Chinese take on the story, rather than the mom sending the little girl off to granny’s house, mom goes to visit grandma on her birthday leaving her three daughters at home. After mother has gone, the wolf comes to their door pretending to be their Po Po. The children realize that something is off and find a way to trick the wolf and keep themselves safe. This is a much darker story with dark illustrations. It is a very interesting take on the story and shows a cleverness in the girls, but is more appropriate for older children.

classic chapter books

I haven’t been posting much recently because J has gotten sucked into the world of Harry Potter. I encouraged her to start reading book 1 with me just after Halloween to try something outside of her normal style and she just finished book 2 tonight. What started as me doing most of the reading, and her re-reading parts because she is just that way, has turned into her doing most of the reading on her own. That reminded me that some time ago I wrote a post on chapter books about princesses, fairies and other magical beings with the plan of writing other lists of chapter-style books. I’m back on it with a list of great classics that younger readers can really enjoy.

classic chapter1

The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum) – Who doesn’t love this story? When J first read this, it was a classic illustrated version that was a wordy picture book. Then she saw the movie and we moved on to the Great Illustrated Classics version. After reading that at least 5 times, she moved on to the complete Oz series and has read the first 5 books. This is a great book for stepping it up to the next level since the story is so familiar.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl) – This was one of our earlier “advanced” books that J got truly excited about. Dahl speaks to young children and the story simply moves along keeping them engaged and excited. The characters are more caricatures and yet somehow relatable.

Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White) – I can’t believe I haven’t written about this yet! We absolutely loved reading this book. Charlotte’s Web actually might have been our first classic chapter book that we read and was J’s favorite book for months at the beginning of kindergarten. This is beyond a doubt one of the best books written. I’m not sure how deeply J understood this book, but deep down this is a story about friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice. I think that she gets that even if she doesn’t understand that she gets it. It will be interesting when she reads it again at a slightly older age. Regardless, this is a good book for growing readers.

The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) – I encouraged J to read this book because she was in the play, so it is hard for me to truly say what the best age for this is, but if you get your hands on an illustrated classics version (B&N sells some great ones), then it is an awesome way to read a classic. The book is about kids navigating difficult situations, so while kids won’t necessarily understand all of the deeper meaning, they will get the story.

The Chronicles of Narnia  (C.S. Lewis) – J only just started reading The Magician’s Nephew and we didn’t start it together, but a close friend read this with her 1st grade son and they loved it. I think the Narnia books are a great series for young readers because, again, the main characters are their age, are full of curiosity, and they make mistakes based on their limited knowledge and naivety. If I can get J to put the Harry Potter books down for a moment, perhaps we can read this one together too.

The Littles  (John Lawrence Patterson) – This is a much forgotten book that I am singlehandedly trying to get back into the hands of young readers and which apparently has other books in the series. One of our Hanukkah books made me remember this story and J has really enjoyed reading it. The concept is that the Littles family lives within the walls of the Bigg family and in return for providing them with everything they need, they make sure that everything in the Bigg house runs smoothly. Almost like elves, but with tails. When the Biggs go away for the summer, another family moves in and brings a cat along with them – “how will this little family get out of big trouble?”  Another great book that moves away from fairies and princesses, but still encourages the young imagination.

James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl) – I remember loving this book as a child. While J hasn’t read it yet, it is on our list of books that we want to read and a classic story that I think younger readers will enjoy.  Once you get past the ludicrous and cruel start of this book – a child’s parents are killed by a rhinoceros and he goes to live with two horrible aunts who beat him and  don’t feed him properly – the magic takes hold as James goes on the adventure of his life. A classic tale for the independent spirit.

Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) – I just purchased a classic starts version of this book as I believe we are about ready to read it. The story is of Anne–a talkative, dreamy, red-haired, freckle-faced 11-year-old orphaned little girl who transforms her adoptive family’s life forever and fills it with love and joy. If we do well with this, Amazon was recently selling the complete series on the kindle (the original version, not the classic starts) for free so I downloaded that just in case.

Harry Potter – I realize this isn’t officially a classic, but it is going to be considered one and it fit well on this list for me. J has absolutely loved this series so far. I’ve had to explain some things to her, but all in all, she is comprehending the story. During the first book, the thing she had the most difficulty with was the fact that Draco Malfoy was a bully and no one stopped him.  As we move into book 3, I am starting to have concerns about her age and the content, so we are proceeding with caution. It makes a book loving mom’s heart sing to see the excitement she gets from this book. At the moment, she is planning to have a Harry Potter birthday and dress up as Hermione for Halloween next year. This of course changes on a daily basis, but it shows the love she feels. She is also already heart-broken by the fact that there are only 7 books. It is awesome to see her get sucked in to this series that I myself love so much.

There are of course tons of other great books, but this is our current starting point.

grateful for great classics – the secret garden

Classics are marvelous because they have withstood the test of time. Not every book can manage to resonate as the years go by, but those that do are often pretty darn amazing. Of course there are many beloved classic picture books, but my heart swells when J and I are able to enjoy a more grown-up classic together. One way that we have been able to do this is through outstanding adaptations like Great Illustrated Classics and Great Classics For Children, among others. We enjoyed a version of The Wizard of Oz many times this way before J moved on to the complete works as written by L. Frank Baum and recently, we fell in love with The Secret Garden.

secret garden

A few weeks ago, J was in a local production of The Secret Garden, put on by the absolutely awesome Missoula Children’s Theater. I had seen the movie years ago, but honestly I couldn’t remember much of the story myself except that it was somewhat dark. I knew that J was going to be excited to be in a play, let alone a musical, but I also wanted her to be excited by the story. I was thrilled to find a great adaptation of the story at our library and the two of us dug right in during our bedtime reading.

The story is rather deep for a 6 year old to fully comprehend, but even on our first go round, she enjoyed the story immensely. The thing about these adaptations is that they understand their audience and abridge the stories in such a way that kids can understand the plot without getting weighed down by too many details. It is important to cut down a bit on the length to make the books more accessible to younger readers – 178 large print pages with illustrations versus nearly 300. The only downside to the version that we read was that Martha, Dickon and Ben spoke with many thou’s and thy’s, but by her second reading, J didn’t even mind those.

The story itself, in case you have forgotten as well, is that young Mary Lennox is orphaned in India when her parents die of Cholera. No one even realized that she survived the horrible sickness that spread through their home. She is sent to England to live with her reclusive uncle, Archibald Craven. Mary goes from being fully dependent on servants to do everything for her, including getting her dressed and keeping her entertained, to being expected to take care of herself and keep herself occupied without messing up the house. Her maid-servant, Martha, tells her of a garden that had once belonged to Mrs. Craven who had died ten years earlier. Mary strolls the grounds trying to find this hidden space. With the help of a robin, Mary discovers the garden. The garden is like her, abandoned and unloved, and she takes it upon herself to bring it back to life. She goes from being a sullen, sickly little girl to one teeming with life.

At the same time, she discovers another secret to the Craven household – sickly young Colin Craven. She hears his moans throughout the house and wonders what could be making those sounds. Colin suffers from some un-named ailment and everyone tells him that he might be humpbacked. He is confined to his bed and never gets to see the light of day or have any visitors. When Mary finds him, they are able to see similarities in each other and wind up enjoying each other’s company. Mary doesn’t put up with his princely ways and instead starts to tell him of the outside world encouraging him to leave his room. When he finally does, the fresh air and friendship help heal him the same way that they have healed Mary. Colin, Mary, Martha, and Dickon conspire to keep Colin’s improving health from the house staff until his father returns and can see it himself. All Colin really wants is the love of his father and his father has been convinced that Colin is sickly that he fears allowing himself to love and lose another. The garden and Mary manage to heal father and son.

The book is marvelous. Reading it definitely helped J for the play, even as simplified as the play was. Reading classics like these with multitudes of layers of meaning is important for growing minds. It’s great that J can read books with a voracious appetite, but fairies and princesses only get you so far. Even the awesome Magic Treehouse books she loves don’t manage to carry the meaty lessons these classics do. I will definitely be on the lookout for other great illustrated classics.

And just because I’m also a proud momma, here is a short clip from the performance. J is one of the plants in the secret garden and is the plant on the left. The garden appeared multiple times in the performance urging Mary to come take care of them.

the oompa loompa song never gets old

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A perennial favorite. I grew up in the 1980s and the Gene Wilder movie version (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) was something that I remember with great fondness. But you know what? I never read the book until a few months ago when I decided that J might enjoy it if we read it together. Turns out that we both loved it!

As a child, I did not read much by Dahl. I do remember reading and loving James and the Giant Peach, but that is about it. Regardless, in an effort to let J see a wider variety of the types of books out there, I hit upon this.

Everyone knows the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Young Charlie Bucket is very poor and when Willy Wonka runs a contest to actually get to see the chocolate factory that he walks by every day, he of course wants to win. Charlie miraculously gets the final of 5 golden tickets and takes his grandfather to the factory with him. The 4 other children are devious, self-serving children that are caricatures of some of the awful behavior that we often see in children – Augustus Gloop (gluttony), Veruca Salt (greed), Violet Beauregarde (the need to always be first), and Mike Teavee (addicted to television).

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I think this book stood out for us because it was just so different. The characters were larger than life and easy to understand – even a 6 year old gets that Veruca Salt is a spoiled brat. The scenes were also so full of imagery that it truly was as if Dahl was painting the scene for you.  J loved to sing the oompa loompa songs, or poems as it were in the book, which made our readings rather entertaining. The songs themselves actually got incredibly long and could be didactic at times.

Normally when I read to J at night we either read 2 picture books or 2 chapters from a chapter book. We would get to the end of a chapter and she would beg me to read more. She read the entire book herself, but I think she enjoyed our nightly readings of it together as much as I did. She was even more thrilled when we found an old copy of  the book that once belong to her uncle and is now hers.

For me, it was so interesting to see how the book differed from the movie. I thought that they were both fabulous in very different ways. What shocked me was to find how much Roald Dahl hated the Gene Wilder version of the the film. According to Wikipedia:

Roald Dahl disowned the film, the script of which was rewritten by David Seltzer, after Dahl failed to meet deadlines. Dahl said he was “disappointed” because “he thought it placed too much emphasis on Willy Wonka and not enough on Charlie,” as well as the non-casting of Milligan. He was also “infuriated” by the deviations in the plot Seltzer devised in his draft of the screenplay, including the conversion of Slugworth into a spy and the “belching” scene.

J hasn’t seen the movie yet, but I think that one of these days we’ll find a copy of it for her – the original, not the Johnny Depp version. I also might have to buy the CD 🙂

According to Scholastic.com, here is how they show reading level:
Interest Level – Grade 4-6 (younger kids will love it too)
Lexile – 810
Reading Level – 5.9
Guided Reading Level – R