First read-alouds

We’ve recently hit a fun new family milestone: our oldest child is old enough (and has the attention span) to start doing some read-aloud chapter books.

Perpetua still takes a daily nap (long may it so be) and so most days, Anselm and I will take some of that time to snuggle up on the couch and do some reading together. We read a lot of picture books throughout the day, of course, but there’s something lovely about doing these long-form books. We do two chapters a day.

Our first was Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary, the story of Henry and his found dog, Ribsy. I didn’t remember this one very well — I was more into Cleary’s Ramona books when I was a girl — but it was an enjoyable read. Henry and Ribsy get into all sorts of scrapes, but manage to (mostly) get out of them with some creative problem solving. The most tension appears in the final chapter, when Ribsy’s former owner shows up to try and claim him; Anselm was made incredibly nervous by this and didn’t want to listen, which gave us a good chance to talk about how listening to stories even when we’re nervous can help us practice being courageous. He made it through… and so did Henry and Ribsy.

Since then we’ve been enjoying Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series. Siblings Jo, Bessie, and Fanny move from the town to the country and discover an enchanted wood at the centre of which grows a wonderful tree: so magic that it can grow all kinds of fruit at once, inhabited by all sorts of interesting characters, at stretching all the way up to a hole in the cloud, above which lies a magic land to visit, a different one every week! The children — along with their special friends Silky, Moonface, and the Saucepan Man — have all sorts of adventures, and get into some dreadful scrapes, in all sorts of magic lands. These books have had a wonderful sparking effect on Anselm’s imagination, and little Faraway Tree plot threads find their way into his pretend-play pretty regularly.

Note that these are older editions, published in the early 1990s. Recent editions have modernized and Americanized the books’ language (they are very, very British), including changing the children’s names (Jo -> Joe; Bessie -> Beth; Fanny -> Franny). I haven’t read the modern editions, but the changes are pretty well decried on Amazon and other review sites. I wanted to complete the trilogy, so when I bought The Enchanted Woods (the first book), I made sure to buy an older copy from a used book store instead. I’m looking forward to reading that one next, and then — we’ll see where we end up next!

In which I seriously over-think a children’s book

One of the fun things about growing up and having children is getting to introduce them to the beloved books of your own childhood. Every time I visit my parents’ house my mother and I carefully negotiate which books I can take home with me to add to Anselm and Perpetua’s library. Of course, sometimes when you re-read a children’s book as an adult, you start to notice some …. inconsistencies.

Enter Katy No-Pocket, by Emmy Payne (author) and H. A. Rey (illustrator), a charming little story about a mother kangaroo trying to find the best way to carry her son Freddy, since she doesn’t have a pouch like the other mother kangaroos. Here’s Katy, very distraught about her plight:

Katy decides to ask the other animals how they carry their babies. First she asks Mrs. Crocodile, who suggests that Katy carry Freddy on her back. It doesn’t work — Freddy has a difficult time climbing aboard and his arms are too short to hang on while Katy is jumping — so Katy then turns to her friend Mrs. Monkey.

Wait. Mrs. Monkey? We’ve seen kangaroos and crocodiles — aren’t we in Australia? There definitely aren’t any monkeys native to Australia. Hmm. Well, perhaps Mrs. Monkey and her son Jocko escaped from a zoo. We’ll go with that. At any rate, Katy can’t carry Freddy in her arms, and so she and Freddy try to think of how other animals carry their young. Freddy asks about lions and birds:

Okay… lions live in Africa, not Australia. But there are also monkeys and crocodiles in Africa, so maybe it’s Katy and her tribe of kangaroos who are zoo escapees. But what about the birds? Those are clearly robins. Now, they could be the European robin (which does range into north Africa), or Australasian robins … but they certainly look like American robins to me. Curiouser and curiouser.

Well, we move on. Katy and Freddy visit a wise owl who suggests that they go to the city and attempt to find or purchase a pocket there. So off they go, and … wait. Are those pine trees? And deer? What is going on here?

At any rate, Katy gets to the bustling city, where she… hold the phone.

U. S. Post Office. U. S. Post Office???

I give up.