2015: Reading Aloud

One of the great joys of having a (gasp) seven year old* is that he’s finally really interested in reading.  We’ve done picture books for years (and his five year old brother is addicted to Captain Underpants), but it’s really only since first grade started that we’ve made any headway with chapter books.  He’s reading to himself, after we tuck him in (thank you Magic Treehouse!)

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Literally the greatest thing that has ever happened, my kid falling asleep reading.

But we also have had tremendous good fun reading chapter books together.  Obviously I am tickled pink.  When it’s bedtime, and he asks for just one more page (and sometimes we read it in a sneaky whisper voice so Daddy won’t know), I am all, this is why I became a parent.  

So, I thought I’d do a rundown of what we’ve read so far, to aid those other read out louders.

No Flying in the House, Betty Brock

This is a totally random book that I had growing up (indeed, we read my tattered and torn copy).  I’ve never met another No Flying fan (comment below if you are one!), but I love this book. It’s pretty simple - actually, both 5 and 7 liked this one a lot.  It is a story with magic - we have found that magic is a key ingrediant in our reading.  One night, rich and snooty Mrs. Vancourt, who is obsessed with minatures, is surprised to find a tiny, talking dog at her door, one that can do 365 tricks! The dog, Gloria, agrees to live with Mrs. Vancourt.  She won’t talk to strangers, but is glad to show off her other skills to Mrs. Vancourt’s guest, as long as Mrs. Vancourt will take in her ward, 3 year old Annabel Tippens.  Annabel seems like a normal child (albeit one with no parents and a talking tiny dog as a guardian), but is she?? My kids loved it - couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, and loved the pictures, too.  The only complaints were 1) the last sentence was sort of dumb, and 2) why didn’t they write a sequel? 7 really wanted to know what happened next - which is what led to our next reading choices, as you will see below.

Half Magic. Edgar Eager

I am finding, when I talk to people, that they don’t know Edgar Eager! I don’t know how I first found him - I’m reasonably certain I didn’t grow up reading him, though maybe I did, who knows. But he is a delight! He wrote in the 1950s, and he was deeply influenced by other children’s authors - in fact, he mentions them in his books all the time, which is so fun - why don’t other children in books talk about reading (well, to be fair, Anne does, but they are all books that we don’t read any more). He said it  was because he read E. Nesbit and felt she was the tops - and we should acknowledge his debt to her.  And Nesbit is the tops, but Eager is a delight, too. 

This book is about Jane, Katherine, Mark & Martha.  They live with their mother (the father is dead), in the 1930’s-ish, and they have a long boring summer before them.  And then Jane finds what she thinks is a nickel (but is actually a magic token, bien sur).  And odd things start happening. The children eventually figure out they can make wishes, but the wished only half come true.  Complications ensue, and it’s lovely and fun.  7 adored it - a few of the concepts were a bit over his head or maybe dated, but that is the fun of reading older books - you learn things you wouldn’t otherwise pick up (for example, everything I know about Purim I got from All of the Kind Family).  And then he insisted we read the sequel, so… 

Magic By the Lake, Edgar Eager

This is the sequel! Due to the events in the first book, Jane, Martha, Katherine and Mark are spending the summer by a lake.  They love it - but they do miss magic.  But then they meet a talking turtle, who, due to a bit of rash behavior by the children, ends up granting them a lake full of magic.  Which means all the adventures are related to water, and it’s a riot.  Two other things about this book - first (and this is true for all of the books), I love the way Eager writes the kids - they aren’t perfect, but have realistic flaws and behaviors, and that makes them more loveable.  And second, I was 100% certain I had never read this book before I read it aloud to 7.  And then, right while I was in the middle I finished (finally) copying over my archives, and oh my lord I not only read this but blogged about it.  Is this what getting old feels like??

At that point, I was ready to move on to another author (I was thinking Roald Dahl), but 7 insisted we push on, so next we read

Knight’s Castle, Edgar Eager

This is about Roger and Ann, and Jack and Eliza - the children of Katherine and Martha from our other books! So it’s set in the 1950’s-ish (contemporary times for when Eager was writing).  Due their father’s illness, Roger and Ann go to Baltimore (Johns Hopkins represent!) to stay with Jack and Eliza (Katherine’s children).  And while there, Uncle Mark sends them a knight’s castle.  And Roger has a very old tin soldier he puts in the castle, and all of a sudden, magic occurs.

This was my least favorite Eager.  The kids are great, and the writing is still entertaining, but, alas, the book is very largely a parody of Ivanhoe.  All the knightly stuff is a play on Ivanhoe (with, thank the lord, some Robin Hood thrown in).  And, good, lord, *I* have not read Ivanhoe, so the illusions were pretty lost on 7.  We still enjoyed it, but there was lots  of explaining, and reminding that Brian Bois-Guilbert was the bad guy, and Rebecca was better then Rowena, who was a weenie, and it was un peu grim.  7  still enjoyed it, but I was exhausted.

So, then I thought, for sure we can move on, but no, 7 wanted the sequel, so…

The Time Garden, Edgar Eager

But 7 was right, because this was awesome. Probably my favorite of the four.  Roger, Anne, Eliza, and Jack are spending the summer at a house on the South Shore (of MASSACHUSETTS, so duh, I’m already in).  And there is an amazing garden full of different kinds of thyme - which send you back in TIME. And there is a magic talking beast called the Natterjack, who helps them on their adventures.  AND - SPOILER - they meet Jo, and Meg, and Beth and Amy!! (Concord, y’all).  If I can convince my little boy to read Little Women, I will PLOTZ.  So, anyway, read this one, it is GREAT.

Eager has two or three more books, but they aren’t in the series.  And, when we finished Time Garden, my two year old was asleep, and YA books A-M are in her room, thank the lord.  So we moved on, and started Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men, and so far we are really loving it (I’ve read it before and it’s sooooo good).  So we are off Eager for now.  But we’ll probably circle back at some point and finish them off.  Because the books are pretty good and funny. And if you can write a book 65 years ago (or so) and amuse my 7 year old, you are tops in my books!

*I figure since I am putting up his picture (like, all the time if you go to the Nat’l Parks Blog), I should probably be a bit coy with his name.  Not that it’s not in the archives, I’m sure, but still.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017