Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy

by Louise Fitzhugh

Age: 10+

Interests: middle school, writing, adolescence, friendship, bullying, city life, New York, bad behaviour

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The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

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NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 1923

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting

Ages: 7 +

Interests: animals, travel, fantasy, boats, adventure

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Tom’s Midnight Garden

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CARNEGIE MEDAL WINNER – 1958

Tom’s Midnight Garden

by Philippa Pearce

Age: 8+

Interests: gardens, history, time travel, England, friendship, magic, mystery, play More

The Little Grey Men

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CARNEGIE MEDAL WINNER – 1942

The Little Grey Men

by BB

illustrated by Denys Watkins-Pitchford

Age: 8+

Interests: gnomes, little people, boats, travel, adventure, animals, nature, birds, country life, seasons

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Children of the Forest

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by Elsa Beskow

Age: 2+

Interests: little people, nature, forest, animals, fairies, family, seasons, Sweden

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Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver

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GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER – 2004

Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver

retold by Martin Jenkins

illustrated by Chris Riddell

Age: 8+ (read to); 10+ (independent reading)

Interests: travel, ships, strange lands and customs, satire, adventure, humour, politics, philosophy

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Rootabaga Stories

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Rootabaga Stories

by Carl Sandburg

illustrated by Maud and Miska Petersham

Age: 5+

Interests: folk tales, history, poetry, language More

Emil and the Detectives

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Emil and the Detectives

by Erich Kästner

illustrated by Walter Trier

Age: 8+

Interests: crime, kid detectives, Berlin, Germany, adventure

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The Story of the Treasure Seekers

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The Story of the Treasure Seekers: Being the Adventures of the Bastable Children in Search of a Fortune

by E. Nesbit

Age: 9+

Interests: siblings, adventure, family, England, treasure, money

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Well-Written Books: A Joy to Read

8291200329_5b38b57771_mI’m afraid I haven’t churned out many reviews this week, partially due to a couple of headachey, unproductive days, but also because I am immersed in rereading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I will be writing about it when I finish, but in the meantime I am thoroughly enjoying Tolkien’s masterful style. All parents will know this problem: far too many books we read aloud to our children are so badly written they are a struggle to get through. Like picking your way through a rock-strewn field. So when we pick up a true gem by someone who really knows their craft – E. B. White, Tolkien, Kenneth Grahame, A.A. Milne – it can be quite a revelation. So perfectly evocative, so smooth to read, so musical!

A few months ago I was reading Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories and “The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo” was so liltingly written I had to read it aloud to my daughter immediately. Look it up and you’ll see what I mean.

Why do you think Goodnight Moon is so universally loved, even after 66 years? Because books like it were not written quickly, every word was laboured over and the whole project was carefully, meticulously crafted. Plus Margaret Wise Brown knew what she was doing. Dr. Seuss books too, give the impression of freewheeling, chaotic abandon, but he took a long, long time achieving that tone and constructing rhymes that scan so perfectly that you never stumble over them when reading.

One particular quality of my favourite writers, most notably writers from a past era, is their restraint. So many books today seem purposefully over-wrought – whether it’s an avalanche of action, torrents of emotion, or a hyper ping-ponging of current teen slang. The more timeless writers, I think, are the ones who slow down, step back a bit from things and comment more thoughtfully. More omniscient, more measured. An old-fashioned style, yes, but it lends itself well to carefully crafted sentences and turns of phrase that are sheer poetry.

(More to come about The Hobbit, restraint, and the complete lack of it in Peter Jackson movies…)

So, all you weary parents, do yourself a favour and pick out an old classic for bedtime tonight, be it prose or poetry. Here’s a good one for a start: The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear. So soothing it’s like meditation.

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.