Category Archives: Juvenile Fiction

Read Aloud Thursday–February 2014



This has almost been a non-reading month for me personally.   That does not, of course, mean that I haven’t been reading.  Not by a long shot!  ;-)  I’ve been reading aloud to my children, as usual, and I’ve even managed to review some picture books this month.  There are a couple of chapter books, though, that we read that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing, so I’m going to share my thoughts on them here today.
I purchased the Oxford Illustrated Classics adaptation of Don Quixote because it was recommended in the activity guide to Story of the World volume 3.   I have never read Cervantes’ original work, so I suppose I should offer the disclaimer that I knew next to nothing about the story when I started reading this retelling by Michael Harrison.  Well, what a fun story this one is!  Everyone probably already knows that it’s the story of Don Quixote, who’s just maybe a little bit crazy, and his desire to go questing like a real knight.   The humor and Don Quixote’s over-the-top antics weren’t lost on my girls.   Harrison’s prose is descriptive but not oversimplified:

The rain fell steadily, and so did Sancho Panza’s spirits.  The more water there was around him, the further away the island he had been promised seemed to float.  It is difficult to believe in heroic deeds and great rewards with rain stinging your eyes and trickling down your neck.  Don Quixote was quiet, too.  If the great enchanter kept up his tricks, how was he to achieve glory?  So the bedraggled pair rode on in silence on their miserable beasts.

Towards noon, the clouds broke and the sun beamed down.  As their clothes streamed in the heat their gloom lifted.  Don Quixote raised his eyes and saw a knight wearing a golden helmet riding towards them.  Sancho Panza raised his eyes and saw a village barber riding his donkey–and this, of course, is who it was.  A few small villages provided enough work for one barber between them and so he rode from one to another, taking his tools with him.  A brass basin is essential for shaving, but it’s an awkward thing to carry, especially in the rain.  If you put it on your head, your hands are free and your head is dry. (32)

Illustrator Victor G. Ambrus’ illustrations are very comical and added much to our enjoyment of this classic.  (Even the DLM listened in, though he much prefers Eric A. Kimmel’s Don Quixote and the Windmills.  ;-)  )  I will definitely be on the look out for more books from the Oxford Illustrated Classics series.  (Oxford UP, 1995)

We also read Newbery honor-winning Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo this month because it was the selection-of-the-month for the mother-daughter bookclub at the library.   It was a rather anticlimactic read for all of us, I think, because we had all already read it.  For some reason I thought it was necessary for us to read it together.   It’s a funny and sweet story, and it’s especially easy to read aloud (with bonus easy points if you’re  a Southerner–the Southern speech patterns and sayings just roll off the tongue).   I used to read this one to my third grade classes when I was an elementary librarian.  Now that I’m a parent instead, I noted some things that I didn’t note as a public school employee: namely, that there seems to be a bit of relativism in the story when Gloria Dump tells Opal that she did the bad things in her past (“with or without alcohol”) before she “learned what is the most important thing.”  When Opal asks what the most important thing is, Gloria responds with “It’s different for everyone.”  Hmmm.  As a Christian I reject the notion that we should just choose our own god to whom we owe allegiance, which is what this sounds a bit like to me.  (Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it did give me an opportunity to talk with my girls about Truth.)  Anyway.  It’s a fun story, and there are certainly bits of truth in it, especially in its overall theme of sadness and joy being inextricably mixed up in this world.   If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and pick it up.  It has short, short chapters and large print, so it’s a very quick read.   My favorite DiCamillo story is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, but I like this one, The Tiger Rising, and The Tale of Despereaux all equally well.  (Candlewick, 2000)

I’m still reading Thimble Summer aloud with Lulu and Caddie Woodlawn aloud with Louise.  Whew.  Our current together read-aloud is The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander, and then we’re on to The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, which is March’s mother-daughter bookclub selection, chosen by us.  :-)

Last, I wanted to share a link to a great thread over on the Well-Trained Mind forums.  I asked forum members to share their current read-alouds, so consider this a long list of possible read-alouds for your family!  ;-)

Share links to your RAT posts below, or tell us about your read-alouds in the comments.  Don’t forget to visit other RAT participants’ posts, too, please!

Happy Read Aloud Thursday!

Wednesdays with Words–The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

Today I’m sharing some philosophizing by the bard/warrior Adaon in our current read-aloud, The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander.  Pulling this out of context makes it sound a bit purplish, but in context it’s just lovely and really endears the character Adaon to the reader, or at least it had that effect on me.

“There is much to be known,” said Adaon, “and above all much to be loved, be it the turn of the seasons or the shape of a river pebble.  Indeed, the more we find to love, the more we add to the measure of our hearts.”  (28)

Adaon smiled gravely.  ”Is there not glory enough in living the days given to us?  You should know there is adventure in simply being among those we love and the things we love, and beauty, too.”  (75)

Wednesdays with Words–The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

My girls just finished listening to The Magician’s Nephew via audiobook (the one narrated by Kenneth Branagh) this past weekend.  They listened to it in the van,
so I listened in as I was able (which mostly means when the DLM wasn’t talking to me).   I’ve read this one several times–at least three or four–but this is the first time I remember being struck by the very beginning of it:

This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child.  It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our world and the land of Narnia first began.

In those days Mr. Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road.  In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now.  But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain.  And in those days there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer.

The part that I’d never noticed before is the reference to the Bastables.  I know that E. Nesbit was one of Lewis’ favorite authors, but until the past few years I hadn’t read anything by Nesbit.  The name Bastable would’ve meant nothing to me then, but now I recognize it because I read The Treasure Seekers aloud to my girls last year.   It was very gratifying to “get” the reference this time.  :-)

It doesn’t take much to thrill me, does it?  ;-)



The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Our first chapter book read-aloud of 2014 is one Sherry recommended for us in her annual reader advisory post, and it’s one I’ve had on my radar and on my Classics Club list for a while.  The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, which is based partially on Welsh mythology, is the story of Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper who goes on a quest to find the oracular pig, Hen-Wen.  On his journey he is joined by several unlikely companions, including a mouthy enchantress-in-training who rescues him when he is captured by the evil Achren; a hyperbolic king-turned-bard named Fflewddur Fflam; and a wolfhoundish creature named Gurgi who’s most interested in “crunchings and munchings.”  Together they search for Hen Wen and seek to warn the Sons of Don of impending evil.

Although I added this book to my list several years ago, it’s not a book I’d normally gravitate towards (especially were I to judge it by its cover).  I’m not really a fantasy person, despite the fact that I love all things Narnia and I finally did manage to read and enjoy The Hobbit a few years ago.  The Book of Three is an easy book to enjoy, though, even for those of us not well-versed in the tropes and symbols of fantasy.   First, there are a limited number of characters, so even though they have names which are at first unpronounceable (hint:  check the back of the book for a pronunciation guide), there aren’t so many that they’re easily confused.  Second, it’s a work of juvenile fiction, so it’s not so long that the plot meanders or we forget where we’ve been and where we’re going.  What we have, then, is a book in which good and evil are very carefully delineated, and Taran’s whole quest is easy to take in.  I love that one of the predominant themes–courage in the face of overwhelming odds–is so easy to discern.  This is from the author’s note at the beginning of the story:

The geography of Prydain is peculiar to itself.  Any resemblance between it and Wales is perhaps not coincidental–but not to be used as a guide for tourists.  It is a small land, yet it has room enough for gallantry and humor; and even an Assistant Pig-Keeper there may cherish many dreams.

The chronicle of Prydain is a fantasy.  Such things never hapen in real life.  Or do they?  Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we can do.  Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared.  To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers.

To me, that’s an irresistible introduction.

We all loved this book.  It’s suspenseful and humorous and just an all around great story.  The characterization is wonderful.  My girls never wanted me to stop with just one chapter.  We give this one a Highly, Highly Recommended and can’t wait to read the next book in The Chronicles of Prydain.  (Henry Holt, 1964)

Wednesdays with Words–Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery

I’m spending part of January enthralled with the worlds created by L.M. Montgomery as I have done for the past five years.  This year’s selections are the last two of the three Emily books.  This quote is from Emily Climbs, and it’s exemplary of what I love best about Montgomery’s stories.  It’s Emily’s response in her “Jimmy-book” (journal) to overhearing an uppity Charlottetown woman say that nothing interesting ever happens in sleepy little Blair Water:

“So, Mistress Sawyer, you are vastly mistaken.  Besides, apart from all happenings, the folks here are interesting in themselves.  I don’t like every one but I find every one interesting–Miss Matty Small, who is forty and wears outrageous colors–she wore an old-rose dress and a scarlet hat to church all last summer–old Uncle Reuben Bascom, who is so lazy that he held an umbrella over himself all one rainy night in bed, when the roof began to leak, rather than get out and move the bed–Elder McCloskey, who thought it wouldn’t do to say ‘pants’ in a story he was telling about a missionary, at prayer-meeting, so always said politely ‘the clothes of his lower parts’–Amasa Derry, who carried off four prizes at the Exhibition last fall, with vegetables he stole from Ronnie Bascom’s field, while Ronnie didn’t get one prize–Jimmy Joe Belle, who came here from Derry Pond yesterday to get some lumber ‘to beeld a henhouse for my leetle dog’–old Luke ELliott, who is such a systematic fiend that he even draws up a schedule of the year on New Year’s day, and charts down all the days he means to get drunk on–and sticks to it: –they’re all interesting and amusing and delightful.  (25)

Confession:  what caught my attention first about her observations is that obviously in Emily’s mind, forty is o-l-d, as is evidenced by her shock at what Miss Matty Small wore to church all summer.  I’ll be forty next month.   Sigh.
L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge