I’ve been reading aloud the chapter book, Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones, to the kids at Roots lately. Many afternoons with a few minutes to spare after tidying up at the end of the day, you’ll find us in various states of lounge listening into the little girl, Twig’s, adventures with Elf and Mrs. Sparrow. From the number of times they request its reading, the kids seem as delighted in this sweet book and her characters as I am. The gentle adventures with the magic of talking animals and a spell that shrinks Twig are whimsical, light-hearted and seem to inscribe on the pages the spirit of a natural childhood. Twig is a mashup of simple everyday things that become part of play, like a tomato can and a drainpipe, and trust in a magical world where the lines between pretend and reality are smudged.
It’s rather perfect to me because that’s exactly where I want to live myself and where I see the Roots kids playing everyday. Like Twig they take simple, open-ended toys, natural materials and found items and create stories, worlds and relationships. Having or retaining or realizing the ability to transform our own lives into something that feels exciting, challenging and magical is a pretty fine objective for all of us. This is what I mean by wanting to be in this zone myself. I think adults who have a sense of playfulness are able to be creative, flexible and inspired. We can see challenges as opportunities to play with and change the rules we are living by and we can see the magic of knowing our powers to create our own world. Just like Twig.
A friend asked me about this book tonight and it got me thinking about what makes Twig and other books like it so special. So here’s a short review of some great read aloud books for young children that I think sparkle with whimsy and are gentle enough to suit young children who adore longer stories, but often are not ready for some of the suspense and intrigue of many children’s chapter books.
The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Ryland
This is a sweet little book about a girl, Clara, and her father, whose lives are intwined with a magical little diner, The Van Gogh Cafe. I love the expectation of magic from the characters in this book. They just know that something interesting is going to happen! I like that outlook 🙂
Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
This is one that my six year old has listened to as an audio book no less that a hundred times in the last 6 months. He listened to it three times through on the snow day this week! It’s funny, set in the 1930’s and full of quirky adventures for the Popper family and their pet penguins. I like that things seem to happen to the Poppers “against the odds,” and that they live in the moment, going on instincts for adventure, care of others and the flow of opportunity that presents itself.
Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt
This is another favorite audio book of my kiddo and has been since he was 4 years old. Fredle is a house mouse who ends up adventuring outdoors and meeting lots of new friends and foes and friend-foes. What draws me so to this book is that it shows a really complicated picture of what it means to change and what it means to be known as “bad” or “good.” In fact the main journey of Fredle is his own realization that he can change himself and that to do so his own independent mind is important, just as are the relationships he forms with others.
Angus and Sadie by Cynthis Voigt
This is the prequel to Fredle, which stars the two dogs on Fredle’s farm, Sadie and Angus. We loved the way Voight showed the dogs’ thinking so vibrantly, humorously and realistically.
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
This is a rare little book to me and one that is great for children who are also exploring poetry. It’s a really meta book written in free-verse poetry about poetry all from the perspective of the main character, Jack. The death of Jack’s dog is a main feature of the book. I really like that death is taken up here in a way that is caring, natural and up front. The sense of poetry can’t help but permeate the mundane, as Jack narrates his world in verse.
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The first book in the Little House series is the best to me. Children love the descriptions of life in the woods, the way daily life is described and Laura’s perspective shared with such an authentic voice. You really get a sense of the rhythm of life that is captivating for me and the young kids I’ve read or listened with.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
I love this whole series of books, though the first is the only one I have so far read to a younger audience. I love the mix of science and mystical adventures and especially the importance of Charles Wallace, a young child himself, as an intelligent protagonist. The end of the book cuts close to the edge of what might feel scary or too suspenseful for some young children, but the climactic un-battle scene at the end is carried off with such love that I’ve noticed most children remain positively connected.
RIght now I am reading The Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy (yep that the guy from The Decemberists 🙂 (Thanks for the recommendation, Nicci!) I adore this first book in the series so far- especially the awesome mix between magic and everyday, the girl protagonist, Prue, and the setting in Portland 🙂 I am curious to find out what the role of the parents in the story will be (Oh, that’s another thing I love about A Wrinkle in Time– the parents are active participants in the story, even as the children take the lead in adventuring.) And I am curious to find out how dark the tale becomes in terms of thinking about younger kiddos listening in. So maybe a Part II to this post to think more about Wildwood, stories and play about darkness.
Please comment with other favorite whimsical and magical books for children!