Saturday, August 14

One Good Book to Read Aloud

I've been sorting through all the juvenile fiction we own. We have lots, and my youngest is fourteen now and more interested in adult history books and biographies, so there's really no need to have all those kids books on the bookshelves. I've been going through them all, keeping the ones that are especially good, and putting the ordinary ones in boxes or bags to donate somewhere. So I've been doing a lot of thinking about kids books and all the books I've read to my kids throughout the years.

Did you ever notice that you that some books are a lot more difficult to read out loud than others? If you read through the Chronicles of Narnia aloud, starting with The Magicians Nephew, which is the first one in the chronological story, but the last one Lewis wrote, and then you move on to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is the next in the chronological story, but the very first one Lewis wrote, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will seem difficult to read out loud in comparison to The Magician's Nephew. Not that it's really difficult, but the words don't roll off the tongue in the same way those in The Magician's Nephew do.

What this means, I suppose, is that C. S. Lewis became a better writer in the process of writing that series. The better a writer is, the more what he writes take on the natural cadence of speech. And when a book is being read out loud, that good writing is especially important. I've started reading books to my children, books that probably had good stories, and then let them die because the language just didn't roll for me. The writing made the reading choppy and dull.

Looking through all those books reminded me of a few that are read-aloud gems--those that have the kind of language that makes just about anyone sound like an expressive reader--and I thought I might start featuring some of those good ones here. I'll write about them one at a time, I figure, whenever I can fit a little blurb in here at the blog, starting with the ones that might be less well-known.

Up first is Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. Amazon gives the appropriate ages for this book as 9-12, but I read it to my youngest son when he was only in grade 1 or so, and it was perfect for him. The book is longer (306 pages) and much more detailed than most 7-year-olds would read on their own, but it is quite suitable, I think, to be read to a child of that age. It's a little detective story--and we all know how much children like detective stories; but this one is notable among children's mysteries because it's well-written, and while the language is easy enough for a child to understand, it's also sophisticated enough to move them along a bit in their understanding of language. Here's a sample passage from the first chapter:
It was a Friday evening and Jerry and Rachel had been sitting, reading, on the little upstairs veranda of their tall house. Rachel had The Secret Garden from the library, and Jerry had on of the Altsheler books, and neither one of these books was and "I" book. They both always opened a book eagerly and suspiciously looking first to see whether or not it was and "I" book. If it were they would put it aside, not reading it until there was absolutely nothing else. Then, at last, they would read it. But, being and "I" book, it had to be awfully good for them to like it. Only a few, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and Swiss Family Robinson, for example, survived the hard "I" test. These were among their best beloved in spite of the obvious handicap.

The children had read for a long time, but it had grown dark. Now they were just sitting quietly, thinking, and watching the bats and bugs hurl themselves against the tall streetlamp which had suddenly come on....
Makes you want to read it, doesn't it?

I looked at all the reviews on Amazon, and Ginger Pye seems to be liked well enough by the children who reviewed it, although the one parent reviewing it had this criticism:
There is a tiny amount of religion in the book, and the little girl prays to god[sic] for the dog to come home. Going to church is viewed positively by the author. As an agnostic, it bothered me a little.
If you're reading this blog, I doubt that's going to bother you. But if it will, don't say you weren't warned.