Children’s Books that Adults May Enjoy

A letter to a friend with children’s book recommendations:

Dear Ce’cile,

Happy to hear Child #1 has a #2, far enough apart so they won’t quarrel, at least not as much as two-or-three-years apart. Child #1 ready for Now We Are Six—tho’ Dorothy Parker in her book review column Constant Reader wrote about A.A. Milne “Tonstant weader fwoed up.”

I’m leaping a bit ahead, tho’ you’re reading Swallows and Amazons, a favorite of mine when I was…So over the next couple of years Amelia will very likely like Bullfinch’s Mythology (as I recall had Norse as well as Greek). A Child’s History of the World (author Virgil M. Hillyer also wrote A Child’s Geography of the World).

I read The Hobbit aloud to Clare–#3—when she was six and seven and then the whole Lord of the Rings. One daughter or another found my old copy of Penrod (Booth Tarkington) and liked it. Be sure to prepare Amelia for the last page when Marjorie writes “Be my bow” by subtly introducing the word beau into conversation–wait, that won’t do the trick—into a note? Maybe Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates won’t be Amelia’s cup of tea—I still have my copy with the wonderful N.C Wyeth illustrations, as well as some of the facsimile reprints of that series: Scottish Chiefs, Westward Ho and so forth.

I also remember Freddy the Pig—a whole series of those. And I just bought my 3-year-old grandson the whole shelf of Beatrix Potter—Jeremy Fisher, Jemmima Puddleduck, The Tailor of Gloucester, The Tale of Pigling Bland…Graham Greene wrote an essay about what a good stylist Beatrix Potter is/was and she wrote to him somewhat hurt because she thought he was poking fun at her.

Maybe in a few years Jack London.

OH! The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber. Hard to find, I’ve found, but I’m still haunting used bookstores. The perfect example of child/parent delight.

Little Women of course and Anne of Green Gables (when I was 9 or 10 the lending library woman tried to dissuade me by saying “That’s a GIRLS’ book.” I’m happy to say I stuck by my guns.

BABAR!

The Little Prince, tho’ the question of death comes up.

Charlotte’s Web. Daughter #2 and then Daughter #4 laughed–—in astonishment I hope—when I got a lump in my throat and perhaps had a tear rolling down my cheek when I read the last page.

Julia actually liked to be read to into her early teens; others peeled away at eleven. At eleven a bright child can read Jane Austen and then turn around and read The Babysitters’ Club. I think I was eleven when I started my infatuation with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series (e.g. Thuvia, Maid of Mars). And soon after that O. Henry, particularly “The Ransom of Red Chief” Don Marquis, Archy & Mehitabel.

Two daughters liked Sake (H.H. Munro) at an early age—“The Open Window” and “The Schwartz-Metterklume Method”.

The thing to do after age eight or so is NOT to approach with book in hand. Nell (#2 at age eight)) speaking to an invisible audience very loudly: “”Uh oh! Here comes Dad with another book he loved when he was my age.” She then submitted to The Phantom Tollbooth but not The Wind in the Willows.

Poetry…they wouldn’t sit still for it. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. I myself was smitten with Song of Hiawatha. Oh—for your #2: I used to lull Clare (#3) to sleep when she was an infant by lying her on my chest and reciting the first quatrain of Grey’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard (The curfew tolls the knell of parting day//The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea/ The plowman homeward plods his weary way/ And leaves the world to darkness and to me.”) several times over.

I’m so glad you asked. It’s been like watching the beginning of a snowfall, one flake after another floating down onto the page.

Oh. Fairy tales. The Grimm, Andrew Lang in several colors, Opie & al. but also the Joseph Cambell anthology The Masks of God. Tales from several cultures—analyses can be saved for later—the stories are the best part.

Affectionately,

John

A letter from my sister Connie:

Dear j,

I hold on my lap the very same book I read to Jacob and then Christopher: Days With Frog and Toad, by Arnold Lobel.

The Old Dark Frog pulls out his jump rope and says, somewhat in the spirit of Room for Improvement: “I am not hungry now. I have eaten too many tasty frog children. But after I jump rope one hundred times, I will be hungry again. Then I will eat YOU!”

Less dramatic, Frog and Toad Together, which has the excellent episode, The List. There are other F&Ts. I used to love Martha and George, The Hippos, until I learned how dangerous real hippos are.

I also love Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. William Steig.

And The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.

Babar. I hate to be disloyal to Phyllis Rose’s spouse, but the first two, by papa Jean de Brunhoff are really better. Babar and the Professor, which j and c used to ask for because it was so long, is very tedious. Ditto Babar in America, and others. The monkey, zephir, is a bore.

Love,

c

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