Monday, September 20

More Books to Read Aloud

Way back at the middle of August, I posted a piece on one good book to read out loud to children and promised that this would be the first of a series. I haven't returned to that subject until today, mostly because my book sorting got pushed to the backburner by other more pressing things.

Today, I'm getting back to that job, and I've found two more books to add to the list of good read aloud books. The first is The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. I remember reading this book when I was young, and it was an older book then, but my girls liked it, too. (And it really is a book for girls mostly.)

It's a chapter book, but it's a short one: only 78 pages, and half of that space is taken up with pictures. It can be read quite easily in only one or two sittings, and is most suitable for girls 9-11 or so.

It's the story of a young immigrant girl from Poland and how she is treated by the girls in her class at school, not seen through the immigrant girl's eyes, but the eyes of someone who watched and sometimes participated a little in the teasing she endured. Wanda Petronski
didn't have any friends. She came to school alone and went home alone. She always wore a faded blue dress that didn't hang right. It was clean, but it looked as if it had never been ironed properly. She didn't have any friends, but a lot of girls talked to her. They waited for her under the maple tree on the corner of Oliver Street. Or they surrounded her in the school yard as she stood watching some little girls play hopscotch on the worn hard ground.

"Wanda," Peggy would say in her most curteous voice, as though she were talking to Miss Mason or to the principal perhaps. "Wanda," she'd day, giving one of her friends a nudge, "tell us. How many dresses did you say you had hanging up in your closet?"

"A hundred," said Wanda.

"A hundred!" exclaimed all the girls incredulously, and the little girls would stop playing hopscotch and listen.

"Yeah, a hundred, all lined up..."
Wanda is teased like this daily. It's only after Wanda moves away that the girls begin to feel guilty for how they've treated her, thinking that it was their teasing that drove her family to move. It's only then that they learn that maybe Wanda hadn't really been lying about the hundred dresses--"all lined up."

This is a "lesson" book that teaches without being teachy. If you're a girl, or you've been a girl, you've probably partipated in this sort of girlish cruelty, even if only as an onlooker afraid of the repercussions of going against the group, so the message is a universal one, and one that sticks because the story that carries it is so compelling.

It doesn't hurt the book that the many illustrations were done by one of my favorite illustrators, Louis Slobodkin.

Next up is The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Yes, it's well-known and well-loved for Miss Potter's darling illustrations and it's perfect size, but it's the language of the story that makes it so good for reading out loud. It's the sort of language that stretches a child, but is also perfectly understandable.
Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.
It's impossible to read "and implored him to exert himself" without giving it the proper expression, and your child will understand exactly what those words mean even if they've never been exposed to implored and exert before.

The next time you read this one, notice how every single word is just what it ought to be.