Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Cozy Up With A Classic

Histories and classics are sometimes forgotten by the young reader because he has so many choices at the library. Often it is the newest releases that are prominently displayed and thus garner the most attention. The books suggested here are a nice combination of history, classic story and innovation. Perhaps one will end up in your hands.

Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice
by Jack and Holman Wang
Simply Read Books, 2012

I loved this book before I even opened it. The idea – making a board book out of Jane Austen’s most treasured novel – is just too delicious for words. And the cover! Look at dear Elizabeth Bennet protecting her bonnet from the wind and tugging at her muddy skirts. Priceless.

Brothers Jack and Holman Wang condensed Pride and Prejudice down to twelve toddler-friendly words. Then they created and photographed sculptured dolls to illustrate the simplified story. The Wang brothers make the dolls by needle felting: using a barbed needle to tangle and compact wool fibers, forming three-dimensional felt sculptures. They are remarkably lively and absolutely beautiful.

Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice is the result. The first spread displays the word “friends” and we see Mr. Bingley smiling, his hand on the shoulder of Mr. Darcy. They are standing in front of the first page of the novel where we can just make out that oh-so famous opening line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” Delightful!

Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice is a must-read for moms who love Austen. Also available is “Cozy Classic: Moby Dick,” and coming this spring, parents can enjoy sharing a cozy version of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” and Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” with their very young children.

Magic Tree House #47: Abe Lincoln At Last!
by Mary Pope Osborne
Random House, 2011

Beginning and middle readers may be interested by the extensive promotion of Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln.” Though they are too young to see the film, children can get in on the history by reading Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House #47 Abe Lincoln at Last! Osborne guides readers on a journey of the imagination to Washington, D.C. in the year 1861 to give the president a message of hope.

Osborne’s tremendous Tree House series is beloved by so many because its main characters, Jack and Annie, are smart, funny kids who are sent on some pretty unbelievable adventures to visit places where real history happened.

That special blend of fiction and fact often inspires a thirst for more information about a featured topic, so the folks from the Tree House series created nonfiction supplements. In this case, the Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Abraham Lincoln is a resource with information about life in a log cabin, what a blab school was like, and what headlines were in the newspapers in 1837. Did you know that Lincoln held a patent for an invention that would make boats lighter whenever they got stuck? Me neither.

by April Lindner
Poppy, 2011

For your teenager who was obliged to read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre at school and actually sort of liked it, there is a fun reimagining of that classic in April Lindner’s novel, Jane.  

Lindner modernizes the tale by wondering what would happen if a Jane Eyre were to fall in love with a rock star. Her character Jane Moore is the new nanny at Thornfield Park, home to world-famous rock musician Nico Rathburn. Fans of the classic novel will enjoy how Lindner is able to pay homage to the original while telling an emotional and engagingly modern story. It’s a great romance. The book is entertaining even to those who have never heard of Bronte.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, with one caveat: Jane Moore has a physically intimate encounter with Nico just before she flees Thornfield Park. I have to say that I was disappointed. Lindner’s main characters are so evocative of Eyre and Rochester that I felt truly let down that Rathburn wasn’t willing, for Jane’s sake, to keep from going too far. Sex may be part of the protocol in modern romances, but here it is dissonance.


Probably the most classical you can get, story-wise, is to read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey – epic poems of heroism and hubris that have been translated and retold by many. If you are looking for a nice translation to read to your family, consider one of these:

The Adventures of Odysseus and The Tale of Troy: Homer’s Great Epics, Rewritten for Children, by Padraic Colum (1918) – The high style is difficult for a grammar school child to read alone, but perfect for reading aloud to him as a child’s listening comprehension level is often quit a bit above his reading level.  

Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of The Iliad, by Rosemary Sutcliff (Frances Lincoln, 2005) - A lyrical, emotional retelling of the epic poem that should keep readers ages 8 and up enthralled.

The Adventures of Ulysses, by Bernard Evslin (Scholastic, 1969) – I use this retelling of the Odyssey when teaching eighth and ninth grade English. Short chapters and lots of action made it a quick, pleasurable read.

Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, by Edith Hamilton (Little, Brown & Company, 1942) - A perennial bestselling collection of Greek, Roman and Norse myths that is the classic introduction to mythology for teen readers.

Michelle Clark would like to throw out the TV so there would be more time for reading classic literature, but then she might miss an episode of Downton Abbey.   

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