We Tackle the Classics

Two of our last three read alouds have been classics of children’s literature.  (The third was an almost-classic, the book Arabel and Mortimer by Joan Aiken.  I posted about the first one back here and I highly recommend them!)  We tend to be heavy on more contemporary fare, but I’ve enjoyed diving into some older books with the kids.  One of the things that interested me most was the editions we checked out, so I thought I might post about that.

First up, we read The Wizard of Oz.  I had not read it since I was a kid (and I admit it didn’t strike my fancy much at the time).  I can’t recall the edition I read back then, but I seem to recall it was sparsely illustrated, with full plate inserts like so many old fashioned books.  The edition we opted for (the library offered us 4 different choices, I believe) is a reprint of the original book with the illustrations by William Wallace Denslow.  The New York Times review of it at the time said that the, “pictures fight with the text,” which is the best description I can give.

The bright greens, oranges, blues and reds that litter nearly every page do indeed fight to be seen before the text, which is often set quite literally on top of it.  I found a fairly typical example so you can see what I mean.  The style is blocky and bold.  You can see how the book was printed in an old-fashioned way, which colors being layered on top of each other.  I imagine that for anyone with vision difficulties it might be a nightmare, but it’s truly a work of art from my perspective.  I’m not sure how I made it to this point in my life without seeing it.  Everything about the book design tells you that this book is different.  If you read this aloud to your kids or give it to them to enjoy, please give them this edition.  It’s just incredible.

Secondly, we’re about to wrap up The Secret Garden.  Frances Hodgson Burnett’s works were favorites of my childhood and the story of Mistress Mary, Colin and animal whisperer Dickon has been like seeing an old friend again.  Some of you may know that I’ve been having quite a time imitating that Yorkshire accent.  I’m sure it’s a dialect crime, what I’ve been doing, but we’ve all been enjoying it.  The library offered an even more stunning array of options for this one.  I believe there were seven choices of edition, including the scantly illustrated one I remember from my childhood.  In this case, we went with one of the newest options, the oversized volume illustrated by Inga Moore.  It’s a lushly illustrated book, with tiny robins and sprouts on practically every page and full page illustrations with the soft colors of spring on the moor and lots of intricate details bursting forth.  One of the things most of the illustrators get wrong for this book is Mary’s looks.  She’s not as hideous as all that, but she is plain and Inga Moore shows her somewhat broad face and slightly big nose, but also her transformation from being a sour, contrary child to an expressive, passionate one.  This has been, by the way, the best book to read as we silently (and sometimes not so silently) will spring to come.  When flowers bloom on the moor, I felt they had to be on their way here too.

4 thoughts on “We Tackle the Classics

  1. Lovely post; now I’m itching for another dose of The Secret Garden. I also want to show you my beloved illustrated Wizard of Oz–maybe a 1940s one, with only a few plates but gorgeous rich red and green ones–but I’m not sure where to find it (not on Amazon). What’s your next book, I wonder?

  2. Yes, we read that same lovely version of The Secret Garden. I love the way that spring growth takes over the pages as the book progresses, spreading out from the illustrations to crawl along the margins.

    We read the version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz illustrated by Michael Hague, but we also read several of the later volumes illustrated by Denslow. His style is truly memorable.

  3. We recently read the Secret Garden, but it was not the beautiful version you are reading. I loved that book as a child. I found that the time and distance since the last time I read it made me find even more relevance in the book. I guess that is why they are classics!

    Currently we are reading a graphic novel version of Homer’s The Odyssey. WOW! I read it in high school in poetic form, but must say that I am getting way more out of it this way. It is very entertaining.

  4. Oh we are nearing the end of Secret Garden, how I wish I had found a copy like yours though, ours is old and has scarcely any illustrations at all….which my 6 year old simply does not enjoy, but she is persisting, thankfully.

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