As I sat down to write this, I realized with a bit of a shock that the last four books we read aloud for bedtime were all from the 1950’s (Well, almost – Comet in Moominland was actually published originally in the late 40’s). I’m finding something magical about the books from this era, at least as read alouds. They are imaginative and have rich, complex language. Some of these are newer discoveries for me as well, which makes them extra fun.
Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson
We had already dipped into two Moomin books, but had not read the first one. What a delight it was! Moomintrolls are funny little creatures who live in a fantasy world populated by other things you’ve never heard of, but just have to accept as you read about them. In this first volume, young Moomintroll and his friend Sniff set off to find out if a comet is on its way to destroy Moominvalley. Along the way, they meet a cast of characters and have adventures fighting off poisonous bushes, octopi, and lizards. All the Moomin books are a bit absurd. You just have to dive in and go with the flow. They’re incredibly popular in Jansson’s native Finland, where you can apparently visit a full size replica of Moomin house. Mushroom wrote about Finn Family Moomintroll for his library book review contest entry and when he found the pictures of the Moominhouse, he announced that we really ought to go Finland just to see it. If I’m ever in Finland, I’m sure we will.
Magic or Not? by Edward Eager
All of Eager’s books are a lot of fun. I like the sense in them that magic, when it comes into the real world, inevitably goes awry in some way, or turns out to be more mysterious and confounding than one might have imagined. In this book, twins Laura and James move to a new house in the countryside. Quickly they find themselves embroiled in adventures helping people and encountering strange coincidences. In the end, they can never decide if what has happened happened because of magic.
The 13 Clocks by James Thurber
This book was reissued a few years ago by the New York Review Children’s Collection, which has happily put a number of forgotten gems back into wider circulation, though this one may be the most welcome and popular to benefit from it. It’s a sort of fairy tale though it’s hard to describe beyond that. On one level, that’s all it is – a prince must rescue a princess from an evil duke. On another level, it’s much more and if you haven’t read it, then Thurber will delight you by playing with literary constructs and language. The world needs more books with this many alliterations and unexpected rhymes.
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
This book tells the story of tiny people who live in your home, slowly stealing little bits of things to live. I really liked these as a child, but on this read, I admit that Homily, the mother, drove me a little crazy. Why is she such a pain to her poor husband, Pod, or overemotional when it comes to her daughter Arrietty? I have no clue. Luckily, the parts about Arrietty as she goes out on her first trips borrowing and befriends the boy are much more enjoyable. And there’s something fun about picturing the scale of things when the Borrowers take thread spools to be chairs and tea saucers to be tables.