Monday, January 17, 2011

Book of the Week: A few good first chapter books

Suburban Sonnet has started a Book of the Week segment with the invitation to join in- which has inspired me to finally put fingers to keys and tell you about our recent favourites (ok, so it's Books of the Week... you'll survive)

Big Bro's ability to follow stories has steadily increased over the past year, meaning that we've been able to venture into longer picture books like the Tim series, The Velveteen Rabbit, fairy tales and Aesop's Fables, and also into chapter books. Moving into chapter books has been an exciting development for me, as I have lots of fond memories from my childhood as a voracious reader (I wish could say that I read as much these days...)

It started with Enid Blyton's The Wishing Chair, which I couldn't pass by when I spotted it at the local library. It was a good place to start as most of the stories are self-contained, the edition we were reading had pictures on most of the pages, and I think Big Bro enjoyed the general theme of a flying chair. They're pretty simple good-versus-evil stories, with the occasional unfortunate mishap thrown in. I wasn't quite sure how well it was being received until he made this origami wishing chair (either origami or wishing chair is a slightly steep claim, I admit).

Our next adventure was Joan Robinson's About Teddy Robinson. It's a collection of short stories about the adventures of a girl and her apparently-alive bear. They're nice mundane real-life adventures like going to a party or shopping, which children can relate to. Teddy Robinson was a big success, but unfortunately it seems to be out of print so I am still stalking eBay looking for copies that aren't priced for the "collectors' edition" market.

Next on the menu was a return to Enid Blyton- The Enchanted Wood, which is the first of the Faraway Tree series. Jo, Bessie and F(r)anny (the "r" is a post-1980s inclusion) and their friends Moon Face and Silkie have adventures in a magical tree that is a bridge to other lands. It's the same formula as The Wishing Chair, but often the adventures span several chapters. Big Bro initially lost track of some stories, but by the time we launched into books 2 and 3 he had the idea of the multi-chapter story, and was disappointed when it finished. There are heaps of other Enid Blytons I think he'd enjoy- and from my childhood collection and second hand bookshops I've accumulated a queue that includes Mr Pinkwhistle, Bimbo and Topsy and the various Tales... short stories. However, I've been trying to mix them up with other authors so we don't turn into exclusively Enid readers (which is tempting given how many of her books I loved!)

After The Enchanted Wood we tested the Winnie the Pooh water. The first couple of chapters were alright, but even I got a bit lost in the subtleties of the next chapters and it remains half read next to Big Bro's bed. A.A.Milne's children's poetry was much more of a success, and thanks to Lines and Squares Big Bro is "ever so careful to watch (his) feet" whenever he walks on a Melbourne street.

More successful have been a few "real world" classics- My Naughty Little Sister was very popular, as was Milly Molly Mandy. They're opposite ends of the slightly moralistic spectrum- I never realised as a child that My Naughty Little Sister uses the protagonist to illustrate what not to do, while Milly Molly Mandy is unbelievably virtuous- the closest to sin that she ever reached was to briefly consider ignoring the "trespassers will be prosecuted" sign that protected someone else's blackberries before realised that was wrong. That being said, MMM is a very sweet picture of 1920s village life- horses and carts, the occasional excursion to a market town.

By this point I was aware that our repertoire was completely based around books I read as a child, which even then weren't that modern, so to try to get Big Bro a few post-1950s literary experiences I ventured into The Hill of Content bookshop in the city. There I came across Lucy (subject of a Grateful Post) who reassured me that there haven't been a lot of post-1980s classics in the early-chapter book department. Between Lucy and responses to a Facebook enquiry I came up with a few more modern books to try: the Tashi series, which has gone down well so far, and Madame Pampelmousse and Aussie Nibbles which are on the to-read list.

I like the routine of reading a chapter book over several evenings, but part of me wonders what we've forgotten to read in the picture book department- and we're certainly including plenty of picture books in the mix. While I never seem to manage to read enough books to myself, I'm relieved that we have plenty of time to work through the children's section. What are- or were- your favourite first chapter books?


MultipleMum said...

Some great suggestions there. We are just delving into this field too. Such fun!

ANB said...

All such goodies! Are the Ramona books too wordy for M yet? On the topic of wordier picture books, have you guys come across Alison Lester's Are We There Yet?

_vTg_ said...

I have been thinking about the Mouse and the Motorcycle (also Beverley Cleary) but I think the Ramonas will work better once Big Bro understands school- lots of her little dramas like the quarter past 8/25 past 8 getting to school late and the paper bag owl would fly over his head (or spook him about school!)

I've given Are We There Yet? to a few people- it's lovely. We have Imagine by Alison Lester, but it hasn't yet had had a lot of interest. They seem to be more interested in words and stories than details of pictures- I am holding off ?Jeannie Baker, the collage books, and The Snowman (no words) didn't quite gel. YET!! The exception is Graeme Base- we love The Waterhole. The board book is nice for babies as the hole is very easy to touch, though it is abbreviated from the paper version.

Eni said...

I am exhilarated to learn that you have listed some of Enid Blyton's books such as The Enchanted Wood, Bimbo and Topsy, etc. I too grew up reading Enid Blyton's books. My affection for Enid Blyton and her books resulted in my writing and publishing a book on her, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (
Stephen Isabirye

_vTg_ said...

Thanks Stephen- I'll enjoy looking through it. Having grown up with so many Enid Blytons, I became fascinated with her life- especially the claims she wasn't as a nice person in real life as her books might imply. Somewhere on the web- somewhere I can't locate at the moment- is a fun website of two adults who try to go on Famous Five-esque holidays.

Rita said...

Have you tried 'The owl who was afraid of the dark' by Jill Tomlinson? (The short story not the abridged picture book). It is another good oldie that my girls used to love. If not available in your library I bought it through Book Depository to put away for E. It comes in a paperback with two other good stories: 'The cat who wanted to go home', and 'The hen who wouldn't give up'. They are just right for reading to pre-schoolers and early school aged children.

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