Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pippi Longstocking

When Evalina was younger, my cousin Agnes visited from Sweden, and brought a plethora of Pippi related items (because it was the 60th Anniversary of Pippi). Among these was a set of Pippi stories on CD (in Swedish), a bunch of Pippi clothing (so cute, and bought in various sizes so that she is still wearing them), and a Pippi storybook (in Swedish - Pippi in the South Seas). Later, we were also given the Swedish TV movies on DVD - which we have not watched yet.

Evalina listened to the cds many many times, not really understanding any of it. She listened to me read the Swedish storybook to her, which I dutifully translated, and the Pippi clothes are among her favorites.

For Christmas, she was given the first book of the series, Pippi Longstocking, in English. The novelty.

The Story: Pippi lives all alone in Villa Villekulla, with only her monkey, Mr. Nilsson, and her horse to keep her company. Her father was lost at sea (and Pippi is sure he has become the king of a tribe of cannibals), and her mother "is an angel," so there is no one to live with her. This is not to say that she is incapable of caring for herself. She happens to be the strongest girl in the world, and is resourceful and irrepressible as any girl could possibly be. She makes friends with the children next door, Tommy and Annika, and they are sure to never have another dull day. They try to get her to go to school (it doesn't work out), invite her to their mother's coffee party (which was a foolish idea), and have many other adventures with this amazing girl.

The Good: Pippi is joyful and silly, that's for sure. She isn't afraid of anything or anybody. The joy of being Pippi is enough to get her through, along with the big chest full of gold she's got... and her incredibly strong muscles and personality.

The Bad: Pippi lies. Incessantly. And it's really funny when she does, so it doesn't exactly teach that lying is wrong. Pippi also gives pistols to Tommy and Annika as toys. And shoots bullets through her ceiling. And dashes into burning buildings. All in all, we had quite a few "Isn't Pippi funny? Never do what Pippi does," conversations.

The Verdict: The kids got a kick out of the fact that Pippi is written by a Astrid, and mommy's name is Astrid. Evalina loved the book (Philip liked looking at the pages and picking out where he saw the word "Pippi" over and over again). I think, as long as you can explain that Pippi's behavior is not ok for real life children, the book is wonderful fun. I look forward to reading the others in the series, and watching the Swedish movies, and hopefully locating the books in Swedish and reading them in their native language!

The Tale of Despereux

So, I also snagged The Tale of Despereux at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. Little did I know that it is the junior novelization (which is basically like reading the screenplay) and not the original book. After reading some reviews for the original book, and going to see the movie, I tend to think that this version is better suited to Evalina's age.

The Story: Despereux is a brave mouse, which makes him an outcast in mouse society. He befriends a human Princess, which gets him banished to the dungeons, where the rats live. Through a misunderstanding, a rat named Roscuro killed the Queen, which got soup and rats banned from the kingdom (read it, it will make sense), but Roscuro becomes the only friend Despereaux has in the rats, all the rest of whom would just as soon eat him. When the Princess is unwilling to see past the fact that Roscuro is a rat, when he tries to apologize for killing the Queen (again, long story), Roscuro turns on his better nature, and goes bad. He encourages a jealous servant girl to kidnap the Princess, and only Despereux can save her.

The Good: Due to the fact it is the junior novelization of the movie, the descriptions are fantastic. The characters are full and lively, and Evalina enjoyed it very much, as did I. There are a few fun dialects to play with, and the message of courage and bravery is a good one. We went to see the movie, and it was a very good one - beautiful animation!

The Bad: Even in the Disneyfied version, there are quite a few scary moments. The servant girl is portrayed as really quite stupid, though if reviews are to be believed, she is worse in the original story. The abrupt death of the Queen caught me off guard.

The Verdict: Loved the movie, and was glad to have read the book first, even if it isn't the original story. It made me want to make a big pot of soup. (Again, read the book or watch the movie, and you'll understand). I will be more careful to look at the cover of a book before I buy it in the future, because I'd rather be getting the authentic story. Still, as mentioned, I think that the Disneyfied version is fine for a child of Evalina's age.

A Christmas Carol

So, this Christmas, I decided to start a (hopefully yearly) tradition of reading A Christmas Carol to Evalina before Christmas. I had actually never read the book before myself, but I snagged a copy at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale for $2. How could you resist that?

(I don't think I have to recap the story for anyone)

The Good: It's a classic story, and has an important moral. At the same time, it stays pretty secular, which I appreciate, and has some great descriptive prose. Go Dickens!

The Bad: There are some scary bits, and of course, some of the language was far over Evalina's head, but she seemed to get the point. It was hard to explain that the story took place so long in the past. Also, she was very sad about Tiny Tim.

The Verdict: I hope to read this to the kids every Christmas season. This year, when we were done reading it, we watched Mickey's Christmas Carol, the Disney-fied version of the story. Eventually, we can graduate to more traditional and authentic versions of the movie. I enjoyed reading the book, and it is pretty short (though dense). A good introduction to classic literature for the kids.

The Magic Schoolbus Science Chapter Books

I got two box sets of The Magic School Bus Science Chapter books through the Scholastic Flier from school, and I am very pleased that I did! I had heard of the Magic Schoolbus show, but had never seen it, and I had never read any of the books before. I was betting on a hunch.

What a great hunch.

Each book covers some topic in science, and covers it well. I have learned things from these books. Evalina loves them, and is always spouting off factoids that she has learned from them.

We have gotten through 12 of the 20 so far.

Topics so far include:

outer space
Australian wildlife
and magnetism

The Story: Each book starts out the same, with an introduction by a member of Ms. Frizzle's class. Ms. Frizzle is a very unique teacher, who loves science more than anything, and loves to bring her class on impromptu field trips, aided by the Magic School Bus. Each book is told from the perspective of the child who "speaks" in the introduction. The topic being covered in the book is introduced in some sort of adventuresome way, and off they go on their Magic School Bus field trip, learning along the way.

The Good: The science is really good! I love that it is not dumbed down for kids, and I love how comprehensive it is. The topics are covered in interesting and exciting ways, and it makes me wish I had Ms. Frizzle as a teacher. The language is not too difficult for kids, and in these books, I have Evalina read a couple of paragraphs a page. She could undoubtably read more than that, but she likes me to read to her. The pictures (one or two a chapter, usually) are cute and Evalina looks forward to them.

The Bad(ish): The kids are not very interesting, in my opinion. The focus is really on the science, and less on character development, so I can understand that.

The Verdict: Absolutely wonderful. A great resource to teach kids science and get them excited about it, and fun to read. Evalina always wants to read them, even if we're working on another book. She wants to read one chapter (the chapters are short) of a Magic School Bus book and then a chapter of the other book. It's wonderful. Plus, she's retaining a lot of the information. She wanted to experiment with magnets on all of my pots and pans while we were reading the magnetism book, for example. I love it, and I will be sad when we are done reading them.

UPDATE: Evalina has spent the summer reading and rereading most of these all on her own. A complete winner of a set! So highly recommended.

Seven Day Magic

Seven Day Magic is the last in Edward Eager's Tales of Magic series. It focuses on John, Susan, Barnaby, Abbie and Fredericka, who like to spend every Saturday checking out exciting books from the library. One day, Susan finds a strange book, and the adventures begin...

The Story: These children are not at all related to the children from Half Magic, though I believe the town might be the same as in The Well Wishers and Magic or Not?, though at a slightly later date. When Susan finds this strange book, it turns out that the pages are blank, but are filled with stories about the children themselves in adventures they are to have! There are references throughout to different works of literary fiction, including a visit to the world of Half Magic. It's full of fantastic magical journeys.

The Good: I love the references to other fiction, especially referencing Half Magic as one of the children's favorite books! It seems kind of tongue in cheek, and I can appreciate that. I think that the adventures the kids have in these books are grand - there is even a dragon! Another fantastic book.

The Bad(ish): Again, some of the references might be lost on the uninitiated reader, but that's just more reason to go read some classics, right? Can't think of anything else.

The Verdict: A fitting end to a fantastic series, it left me wishing there were more books. The kids are likeable, and fun, and just a little naughty. Another one I can't wait to re-read with the kids.

The Time Garden

The Time Garden is a sequel to Knight's Castle, and a fun one at that. It follows the same kids (children of a couple of the original children), and includes a mysterious creature called a Natterjack.

The Story: The children are sent to spend the summer at the house of strange old Mrs. Whiton, and in her garden, they meet the Natterjack, who is kind of like a frog. He introduces them to the mysteries of the many different kinds of thyme growing in the garden. Each different type of thyme evokes a different kind of magic, from wild thyme to common thyme, and along the way, they travel in time and meet their parents (in a cross-over from Half Magic. Or maybe Magic by the Lake. I don't remember which one). It's very cool.

The Good: Did I mention it's just really cool? The adventures are lots of fun, and fast paced. I love how it overlaps with the previous stories, and it is just plain good reading. Plus, the Natterjack seems to speak with a cockney accent, and I love any excuse to practice fun accents. The kids don't care if I'm bad.

The Bad(ish): There are a couple tense moments along the way, but even my hyper-sensitive child didn't have too much trouble with them, so it's not too bad.

The Verdict: Love the time traveling, and the puns with the different types of thyme sending them on different adventures in time. A very clever person could make some thyme-infused meals for the kids to tie in with the book. I didn't get that far (this time) but I do make a killer Lemon Chicken with Thyme. Can't wait to reread this one.

Knight's Castle

Another sequel to Half Magic, the story of Knight's Castle follows the magical adventures of the children of a couple of the original children. I think this might be my favorite (other than Half Magic!)

The Story: Roger and his sister Ann spend the summer with their cousins, Jack and Eliza, and facilitated by a magical toy soldier of Roger's, enter into a magical world at night, full of knights and Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Ivanhoe, among others. It's a little evocative of Narnia, but the story is all his own.

The Good: This story is action packed and exciting, and these kids are just as fun as the original quartet. I much prefer the outright magic to the Magic or Not? style of "magic." I love the adventures they go on.

The Bad(ish): It would be better if I had a better grasp of some of the stories they borrow characters from, like Ivanhoe. It left me wanting to read Ivanhoe (I haven't yet!). There is some mention of Roger and Ann's father having an unnamed illness, which is the reason for their summer visit, so he can get treatment. That might worry more sensitive children.

The Verdict: If this is a take-off of Narnia, I'll take it. I used to dream of having the kind of adventures these kids have, and it's also fun to catch a glimpse into the kind of grown ups the original kids become. I love this book.

The Well Wishers

The Well Wishers is a sequel to Magic or Not? and follows the same group of children.

The Story: The kids try to evoke the magic (or not?) of the well again to help some people in the town. They set about to start a group of people with "wishing" wells in their town, to band together and all wish together. Along the way, they have some adventures (of course!) and meet some very interesting people.

The Good: As in Magic or Not?, slightly unappealing characters are given a chance to redeem themselves, and the whole vibe is kind of Pay it Forward by the end. Good writing style, and likable characters.

The Bad(ish): There is one storyline about the first black family coming to town, and the kids handle it well, but there is a lot of tension with the grown-ups. It's about as "political" as these books get, so I can handle it. The "magic," again, is not straight-up magic, but it works.

The Verdict: These two are probably my least favorite in the series, but still great reads.

Magic or Not?

Another book in Edward Eager's Tales of Magic series, Magic or Not? introduces a new set of children, in a different time. If I had to guess, I'd say it is probably in the mid-50's.

The Story: Laura and her brother, James (and of course their parents, and their little sister, ) move into a new house in a new town, and they meet a nice boy, named Kip, and a strange new neighbor, named Lydia. It starts when Laura wonders if the old well in their backyard is a magic wishing well. This book is less overtly magical than the others, because it is never clear if the happenings are due to magic or chance, or if they make their own magic.

The Good: I love the characters, especially Lydia and the strange Miss Isabella King. The kids are again well written characters, and the adventures they go on, even if they are not magical for sure, are lots of fun.

The Bad: I kept waiting for something completely magical to happen, and in that I was a little disappointed. As in the other books, the kids have a lot more free reign than we would let kids have today, but it isn't dreadful.

The Verdict: Not my favorite in the series, but still good. There are a lot of examples in the book about the first impression of a person not necessarily being the most accurate, and that is a good lesson to learn. I guess I prefer the more fantastical magic stories, though.

Magic by the Lake

Magic by the Lake is the first sequel to Half Magic, and I only wish I had known about it as a child.

The Story: The same four kids as in the first book are back for another magical adventure. They are off to spend several weeks at a lovely little lake house. Little do they know that the lake will bring them more magical adventures, courtesy of a very grumpy magical turtle (because, if you didn't know, all turtles have some magic to them).

They have some more wonderful magical adventures, though they learn to abide by some simple rules set forth by the turtle. Most of their wishes have to be suitably watery in nature, but they don't find that to be too limiting.

The Good: These kids are so much fun. They are just naughty enough to be fun, without being reckless (most of the time), and again, the writing is so much fun. I could read this multiple times happily.

The Bad(ish): Just more of the same, since it was written so long ago, the kids aren't always doing things that we wold deem appropriate. That is all.

The Verdict: I don't think you can go wrong with any books from this series. We started reading this book again, but then Evalina got distracted by some other books (I did, too) so we didn't finish the second reading. Yet. I'm sure we'll come back to it.

Half Magic

When we were kids, Half Magic was one of our favorite books. All four of us kids read it many many times. I don't know what happened to the original copy, which looked like this:

I knew I wanted to read the book with my kids, and so I went on the magical site that is Amazon and ordered it when Evalina was getting old enough to appreciate it.

To my delighted astonishment, it was part of a series. Neither I nor my siblings had any idea that the other books existed. I ordered them immediately (but I'll get to them later).

The story: Four siblings (Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha) find a charm that looks like a nickel, but most definitely isn't a nickel, on a lazy summer day. Through some fantastic adventures - and misadventures - they discover the secret of the charm. It grants wishes.

But only by halves.

That's right. It's tricky.

So, when the kids wish something exciting, like a fire, would happen, a small playhouse burns down. That kind of thing. They get the knack of it soon enough.

The good: It's pure fun and escapism, and fantastic storytelling. I feel like I know each of the children, in their multi-faceted personalities. I could read this again and again and never be bored. When is magic not fun?

The bad(ish): Since the book takes place in the 40's or 50's, there are things that the kids do that you could never imagine kids doing nowadays, so there was some explaining about why it is never ok to hitchhike, and things like that. Nothing major.

The verdict: Evalina asked me to buy another copy of this book, so that she can give it to a friend (as yet undecided which friend) for a birthday present. Though she is too little to read it herself yet (it is probably best suited for ages 8-12, according to Amazon), she loves it and we've actually read it twice. It's an absolute joy and I look forward to many more readings.

Reading with kids

From a very young age, I've been reading to my kids. Evalina's favorite book for about 6 months was Dr. Seuss' I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew. I read the 60+ page book nightly for most of that time, and have it memorized to this day. It's a fantastic book, which I never read as a child, amazingly. It's all about how you can't run away from your troubles, and it's better to meet them head on and prepared. I love it, and wish that Philip would get a similar obsession, because I miss reading it.

Philip's favorites have been anything that involves letters and numbers. The boy is obsessed. He's not yet 3, and I don't doubt he'll be reading before he's 4. His favorites are Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Chicka Chicka 1,2,3, and Dr. Seuss' ABC Book.

Evalina began to read (very very well) all of a sudden right before she started kindergarten. Now, we are reading together. I still read to her most of the time, but when we read books like The Magic Schoolbus series (I'll get into this more later), I have her read 1-2 paragraphs a page on her own. I'm constantly amazed at how well she does. She understands hyphens, and is very interested in making sure that she gets the emphasis right on words, depending on punctuation. We are astounded by her reading.

This blog will be my way of keeping track of the books we are reading. I will focus on the chapter books that I read to her, or that she reads with me. When Philip gets to reading more, I'll include his favorite books.

We always read before bed, even if it's really late getting there. Even if it's just a couple of pages. We never take away reading as a punishment if the kids have been less than stellar in their behavior. Sometimes we'll read for over half and hour, sometimes just a couple of minutes. It's one of my favorite times of the day.

Evalina's teacher asked if we had done a lot of teaching her how to read at home. We have done a little, but mostly it's just been absorbed through our reading to and with her.

I am an avid reader, and hope that my children grow up to be the same way. They are certainly off to a good start.

(Here is the bookshelf in the kid's room. Yes, it's insane. I couldn't be happier)