I wrote Great Chapter Books for Kids when Nicholas was four years old, thinking I’d add to it later or make it the first post in a series…and I keep meaning to get around to it…but meanwhile, I’m going to use the Quick Lit Linkup as motivation to write about what I’ve read to Nicholas, and recommended that he read, just in the past couple of months around his tenth birthday. Some of these will eventually make the “great” list, while others might not.
Although I don’t spend as much time reading to Nicholas as I did when we commuted by public transit to his preschool, I still read to him for about half an hour at bedtime; we have been firm about keeping up that tradition even now that baby sister Lydia is on the scene! My father continued to read bedtime stories until I was 14, and I think it’s a great way to experience books together. Nicholas also gets to read a different book to himself in bed for a while after 8:30.
These are some of the books he’s heard or read since November:
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
This is one of the less-well-known Chronicles of Narnia, but I think it deserves more acclaim. Two English schoolchildren escape bullying by fleeing into the alternate world of Narnia, where they immediately screw up. They are assigned a quest to find and free the lost Prince Rilian, and in various ways it doesn’t go so well. Talking owls and a strange creature called a Marsh-wiggle help and accompany them on a chilly journey involving giants and enchantments. There’s a solid lesson about the need to remember and follow directions! In addition to reading this book half a dozen times when I was younger, I read it to Nicholas when he was five or six, yet on this reading I found many details I’d forgotten and appreciated all over again.
Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright
I’m so glad Nicholas is now able to read himself this wonderful mystery, which I read to him about once a year from age four to eight! Randy and Oliver are left behind when their three older siblings go to boarding school, but an anonymous note in the mail tells them (in rhyme) to dig in a certain spot at a certain time, and they dig up another poem that leads them to another and another and finally a wonderful reward. They ramble all over a small chunk of rural upstate New York in the early 1950s, making new friends and learning new things about the people they thought they knew so well. It’s beautifully written and lots of fun. The used paperback copy my babysitter gave me when I was six was absolutely falling apart, and after years of searching, I found a new one with the original illustrations (by the author) and an acceptable cover, so we can go on enjoying it for years to come.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
We picked this up at a yard sale, and I chose it for Thanksgiving-trip reading (in the car, as well as at bedtime) because I remember my dad reading it to me when I was nine or ten. I then had to read it in school in seventh grade, but I don’t think I had read it since. Everybody knows this book is about pirates! More specifically, Jack is the son of British innkeepers who have an old pirate as a guest, and after some mysterious happenings and the death of Jack’s father, the pirate dies owing them money. Jack and his mother go through the pirate’s things looking for valuables and find a treasure map. Family friends decide to take Jack with them, hire a ship and crew, and seek the treasure! But the crew turns out to include pirates with a personal connection to that treasure, and they mutiny.
We stopped reading in the midst of the fighting part, which was seeming to go on forever (Nicholas isn’t really into fighting, and neither am I), as the new books rolled in at Christmas. I’m not sure we’ll go back to it anytime soon. However, we enjoyed the first part. Stevenson’s complex prose sets a vivid opening scene, and that first pirate is quite intimidating, but then the guys who come to see him–brrr! Just before we began this book, we’d had an old friend stay with us for almost a month while he was between homes, and Nicholas sometimes found him annoying; when we got to the end of the first chapter, Nicholas said, “He’s kind of like Vinnie, but at least Vinnie never got drunk and made us all sing sea-chanties!” It’s nice when a book inspires gratitude…
So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane
My brother recommended this book some time ago, and since we’d never gotten around to it, he gave it to Nicholas for Christmas. I don’t know how I missed this one in the 1980s, when it was published–I would have loved it! Nita is an often-bullied kid who hides out in the library, where one day she happens upon what seems to be just another book in a series on careers: So You Want to Be a Wizard. Reading, she finds that this truly is an instruction manual for wizards, and amazing things become possible. Soon she meets a boy named Kit who also has a copy of this book, and they befriend a spark of light named Fred who’s actually a white hole in disguise, and they’re sent on a mission to pass through a worldgate in Manhattan and bring back another, more powerful book. Interesting adventures ensue in a parallel-universe Manhattan prowled by carnivorous taxis. It’s a classic good-vs.-evil battle plot with some very imaginative details. And it’s the first in a series….
Mickey Mouse: Trapped on Treasure Island by Floyd Gottfredson
I got this for Nicholas for Christmas because I so enjoyed reading my father’s old comic books, and in the 1980s when Gladstone Comics reprinted classic Mickey Mouse stories that had been serialized in 1930s newspapers, I loved those too. Nicholas liked the idea, but this book (which I bought by mail) turns out to be printed very small, making for difficult reading. He also got irritated with the dialect in which the characters speak: “Too many apostrophes!” At this point he hasn’t read the main story but kind of liked the first, shorter story, “The Orphanage Robbery”. Maybe we’ll read this together later.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
This is a book from my childhood that Nicholas read to himself and liked very much. Bandit is a girl in China whose father has been in America for years and now wants her and her mother to join him. Bandit takes an American name: Shirley Temple Wong. She struggles to learn English and Brooklyn customs, succeeding in time to enjoy the excitement of the first non-white player being allowed into Major League Baseball. Lots of funny and charming scenes.
Once I Was a Plum Tree by Johanna Hurwitz
This is the book I’m reading to Nicholas now, also from my childhood. Geraldine lives in the Bronx in 1947. Her parents say they’re Jewish but don’t believe in God and don’t seem to know what their Jewish identity really means to them. All her friends are Catholic, until Edgar moves in. This is a poignant story of a preteen seeking to know God, similar to that aspect of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but where that story is also about Margaret’s changing body and interest in boys, Once I Was a Plum Tree is about the childhood pleasures of the 1940s, the funny things kids can get into, and the dynamics of living with friends and a little sister in close proximity. Reading it as an adult, I’m pleased to find that the writing is so good, and Gerry’s father’s line, “In ten years, no one will remember what the Nazis did,” is all the more ironic!