Monday, September 29, 2008

Talking Beasts and Precocious Readers: UPDATED

The Darwins have encountered that bane of many hyper-literate parents: what do you have a young child read who is past the beginning-reader phase of Frog and Toad but just isn't interested in the school-based adventures of Harry Potter and doesn't have the life experience to make sense out of Tolkien or C.S. Lewis?

The Opinionated Household has been through this twice, and after much trial and error with Offspring #1, we were pretty secure in offering the same books to #2, with success for the greater part. Here then is the Opinionated List of Books for Little People with High Reading Levels.

1. Caroline Haywood. The writer of the Betsy and Eddie books was the Beverly Cleary of the previous generation. Haywood writes at a level close to that of Cleary--maybe a little simpler--and her children are charming and realistic. Many of Haywood's titles are back in print, to my joy.

2. My Father's Dragon. Everything a small child could want in a book: adventure, talking animals, a cuddly dragon, and not too long.

3. Uncle Wiggily. After reading a few dozen of Howard Garis' stories of the Gentleman Rabbit, I felt fairly sure I could whip up a macro that would churn out any number of them. (Garis originally wrote them for newspaper publication, which explains in part the stories' brevity and exhausting conventionality.) Offspring #1 had only a cheap Dover edition containing a few Uncle Wiggily stories, and I stumbled on a couple of battered out-of-print collections when Offspring #2 was a baby. Both children read them, and re-read them, and re-re-read them, compulsively at Kindergarten age. #2 even started to talk like Uncle Wiggily for a while, and refused to read anything else whatsoever.

4. Flossie and Bossie. Eva Le Gallienne apparently never wrote any children's book other than this tale of talking hens, which is a shame, as her talent was huge. Again, talking animals are the key to its appeal for the advanced young reader. Beautifully illustrated by Garth Williams (the illustrator for Charlotte's Web and Little House on the Prairie), and easily the most beloved book of both my girls. Ever. I bought our battered copy for $.99, and haven't ever seen it again. Bookfinder has it for $44 and up. It's a crime that it hasn't been reprinted.

5. Oz. Baum was no great shakes as a writer, but as with Uncle Wiggily, repetitive language and narrative devices that drive parents to drink are the key to little person popularity. There are dozens and dozens of books in the Oz series, all featuring roughly the same characters, storylines, and conflict resolutions, so one need never run dry. And, again, talking beasts.

Update: How could I have forgotten these? Both of these are small books, just right for the developing attention span.

6. The Enormous Crocodile. I'm actually not a huge fan of Dahl; but this book of his is written for younger kids, and is extremely funny, especially if you are capable of pulling off a couple of British accents. Secret plans and clever tricks!

7. Wren. The true story of an adorable little girl with cerebral palsy, and her life with her devoutly Catholic family and lots and lots of animals, written by her mother, Marie Killilea. Both my girls loved it.


Blogger mrsdarwin said...

I found a copy of My Father's Dragon at Half-Price, and snatched it up because I remembered it from my youth (it used to sit in the waiting room of some doctor's office my mom visited, and I would read it while waiting for her). The oldest loves it -- though this may also have to do with the fact that knowing how to spell "dragon" is essential for her to access her computer account...

I would love to see Flossie and Bossie. I'm a sucker for anything illustrated by Garth Williams.

6:53 AM  

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