Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Back to the books

Slightly revised November 2020

Here are a few books that worked well during the grade two-to-four period between picture books and bigger fatter chapter books. 

Rumer Godden's children's books. These range from Mouse House, a simple story about a young mouse who makes a mess of a doll's house (reminiscent of Beatrix Potter), to the exquisitely painful The Mousewife; the "coincidence? maybe" Christmas book The Story of Holly and Ivy (about a girl who longs for a doll and a doll who longs for a girl), and the livelier adventures of Impunity Jane. (Boys would listen to that one too.) Even when Rumer Godden is at her simplest, she can't resist poking fun at certain kinds of people; indolent fathers are sometimes painted with more acid than certain conservative catalogues would accept.
Father Mouse scolded the children. "Naughty! Bad mice!" he said. "They can't help it," said Mother Mouse. "There are too many of them." Then he scolded her. "You shouldn't have had so many," he said.--The Mouse House
As I mentioned in the other post, some people would also not feel quite comfortable with the fantasy aspect of Godden's doll's lives; her dolls can't speak to their owners, but they communicate by wishing, occasionally so hard that they crack. But the dolls aren't the only focus of these books: any child who has been bossed around or left behind by older siblings will relate to Elizabeth in The Fairy Doll; and Impunity Jane raises all kinds of questions about what it means to be a little boy and to be honourable and brave. The boy in the story, Gideon, swipes an unloved doll from a neglected dollhouse, but eventually realizes that it was still theft.
But, from far off, she seemed to hear the bugle telling her to be brave, and she knew she must wish, "Gideon, put me back." She wanted to say, "Gideon, hold me tightly," but she said, "Gideon, put me back."

(Of course there is a happy ending.)

Marguerite De Angeli's books: A couple of her books, A Door in the Wall and Thee, Hannah! are familiar to many homeschoolers; but we have collected several less well known ones as well. I don't know how well all these books, particularly her "Pennsylvania Dutch" stories go over with the people concerned; the dialect in them sometimes seems a bit Lancaster-County-tourish, even though they are dedicated, for instance, to "the Children of the Little Red Schoolhouse in the Conestoga Valley of Pennsylvania."

"Supper ready, Mom?" called Ammon. "Ich bin hongry!"

"Ya, ready and waiting," Mother answered....--Henner's Lydia

However, we still like Henner's Lydia as well as Thee, Hannah! and Elin's Amerika for their portraits of very real little girls, who get in trouble and make messes, and usually come to realize in the end that their families' survival depends on their learning responsibility.
What would she do? Knute looked at her but didn't stop paddling. "Now," she said, "the Tomte [a little household helper like a brownie] will be angry. I left the stuga untidy and the hearth unswept, and now I've forgotten the milk, and it will sour! What shall I do? Can we go back, Knute?" "Of course not! We like it sour anyway," said Knute. "Do you think I have nothing to do but paddle several miles just because you can't remember anything?"--Elin's Amerika

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