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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The Water-Babies

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The Water-Babies

by Charles Kingsley

originally published in 1863

144 pp.

Age: 6+ (read to)

Interests: fairies, magic, animals, nature, religion, bad behaviour

Next: other Victorian fairy stories – The Magic Fishbone (Dickens), The Princess and the Goblin, The Cuckoo Clock, Alice in Wonderland

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Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse

Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse

Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse

by Ursula Moray Williams

originally published by George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1938

253 pp. – 19 chapters

Age: (read to) 4+ ; (independent reading) 7+

Interests: horses, toys come to life, travel, adventures, pirates, circus

by the same author: Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat, The Further Adventures of Gobbolino and the Little Wooden Horse

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8 Life Lessons to be learned from Jane Austen

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait b...

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait by her sister Cassandra, 1810 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a great post on Huffington: 8 Life Lessons from Jane Austen. A lot has changed in the last 200 years or so, but love and relationships remain constant, it would seem. Not to mention flirtation, attraction and deception. And the allure of dashing young ne’er-do-wells.

I did not read Austen as a young person, sadly, but this post reminded me how relevant these books can be for romantically addled teenagers. If they can get a grip on the language and persevere through the slow parts, they will come away with a sense of the social rules of Austen’s time (“Oh, man! It would suck to live back then!”) as well as some pertinent love advice for their own era.

Top 5: Pre- Harry Potter Reads

As I wrote yesterday, Harry Potter books (and movies) can be pretty scary and intense for younger children. If your child is intrigued by magic and fantasy, but you’re not certain she or he is quite ready for Hogwarts, here are a few fantasy titles they may be more comfortable with.

(Click on the titles to see full reviews.)


Top 5: Beginner Fantasy Chapter Books

 

1. The Cuckoo Clock by Mrs. Molesworth – age 5+

A very sedate and old-fashioned (1877) story about a girl who visits some magical places and learns to behave herself a little better.

2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – age 5+

Quite different from the movie – a rambling, weird tale with a few scares and dustups along the way. (NB. some violence: see full review.)

3. Half Magic by Edward Eager – age 5+

One of my childhood favourites. This and other titles by Eager are lovely stories about children who come across something magic and mess things up a little. Slightly old-fashioned but charming and full of insight about sibling relations.

4. The Book of Dragons by E. Nesbit – age 6+

Snappy and very funny short stories, each about a very unique dragon.

5. The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit – age 6+

Nesbit books like The Enchanted Castle and Five Children and It inspired Edward Eager’s work, and are similarly about children who acquire some kind of magic and mismanage it with amusing or chilling results. This title in particular has one very creepy sequence.

And Two bonus titles… Rather long and wordy, only for the most hardy listeners (and readers).

6. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – age 6+

Find an abridged version if you can. (But NOT a Disney version!) The plot is captivating, but the original novel is a very dense read, and tangled with tangents.

7. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald – age 6+

Goblins living under a mountain plot to kidnap a Princess, but she is aided by the ghost of her great-great-great grandmother and a courageous miner boy. Another very old classic, creepy and intriguing, but a trifle loooong and slow to get going. (Not sure if there are any abridged versions out there.)

As you can tell, my tastes go to the older, classic novels. I must start reading some newer books!

If you have any suggestions for early fantasy books, new or old, please share them!

The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth

by Norton Juster

Jules Feiffer, illustrations

Alfred A. Knopf, 1961

256 pp.

Age: 10+

Interests: word play, puns, adventure, nonsense, fantasy, science, math, modern fairy tales, philosophy

Also by this author: The Dot and the Line, The Hello, Goodbye Window, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, Otter Nonsense

Also by this author & illustrator: The Odious Ogre

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500 “New” Fairy Tales?!

Is this even possible? Yes it is! According to this article from The Guardian by Victoria Sussens-Messerer, a Bavarian historian named Franz Xaver von Schönwerth was recording and collecting fairy tales around the same time as the Brothers Grimm. However while their collection enjoyed huge success across Europe, Schönwerth’s 3-volume work sank into obscurity.

This could be due to the fact that Schönwerth actually did what the Grimms claimed to do: he recorded the stories faithfully and didn’t put his own spin on the morals, didn’t tinker with them or ‘polish’ up the language. (As opposed to the Brothers Grimm. More here.) At the time Schönwerth’s works were not bestsellers, but now that they’ve been rediscovered, their authenticity is what gives them such appeal and value.

Among versions of tales which also appeared in Grimms, cultural curator Erika Eichenseer discovered 500 unknown fairy tales. She published them last year in German and is now having them translated into English. The Guardian has one of them on their site: The Turnip Princess.

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related post: Fairy Tale Controversy, Part 3 (including info on the Grimms’ tinkering with their tales)

The Book of Dragons

The Book of Dragons

by E. Nesbit

North-South Books, originally published 1900

172 pp, 8 stories

Age: 6+                   independent reading age:  9+

Interests: dragons, fairy tales, adventure, princesses

Also by this author: The Enchanted Castle, Five Children and It, The Railway Children, The Story of the Treasure Seekers

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The Cuckoo Clock

The Cuckoo Clock

by Mrs. Molesworth

first published in 1877

edition I read: London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1967, with illustrations by E.H. Shepard

165 pp.

Age: 5 +

Interests: magic, birds, manners, fantasy, butterflies

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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.