Maeve Visser Knoth: Leisure Reading over the school holidays

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Leisure Reading over the school holidays

The children and I have had two weeks off from school and work and with so much time to lounge around, we have done a lot of reading. So, what is lying around out living room floor?

Our eleven-year-old has been reading a pretty wide range of stuff this past week. He re-read Christopher Paolini's ERAGON since he went to see the new movie with a friend. His assessment of the movie was that it "should have been about six hours longer" to fit in everything from the book. He read an Anthony Horowitz thriller- PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER TWO and a Chet Gecko mystery by Burce Hale, THE CHAMELEON WORE CHARTREUSE. He received the book and CD MOUTHSOUNDS: HOW TO WHISTLE, POP, BOING, AND HONK FOR ALL OCCASSIONS AND THEN SOME by Fred Newman as a Christmas gift and reads sections of that as he practices his new skills. As I type, he is reading THE ANYBODIES by N. E. Bode. He received a beautiful edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's TREASURE ISLAND as a gift and is in the middle of that now. He said, after reading the first hundred pages, "I think this might be my new favorite book."

Both he and his eight-year-old sister have read NICHOLAS AGAIN and NICHOLAS ON VACATION by Goscinny and Sempe. These new American editions of books first published in France in the 1950's feature a winsome little boy who gets into one scrape after another. The books are more collections of short stories than true novels. Each episode is illustrated with Sempe's (known for his Asterix comics)lively and very funny cartoon sketches. The stories definitely reflect an earlier time period- parents and teachers dish our punishments that are unpopular, and sometimes illegal today. Still, the stories are very funny, the children delightfully exaggerated and it is fun to read about children who do the daring things that I would never have the nerve to do. I read the first book about Nicholas aloud to the children and they moved on to the others.

Our eight-year-old daughter has been re-reading the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She owns the entire series and has read each volume probably eight times already. She finds them exciting and comforting. Most of all she loves the details of everyday life. This vacation she has read at least five of the Little House books. She has also read ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery. She first read it this past summer in a paperback edition and the small dense print and old-fashioned language gave her a bit of a struggle. Still she got through the book and laughed aloud when she read about Anne dying her hair green. For Christmas, she received a large hardcover edition and the easier format, and of course her familiarity with the story meant that she could get through the novel in just two days. She also read THE GREAT PIRATICAL RUMBUSTIFICATION & THE LIBRARIAN AND THE ROBBERS by Margaret Mahy. These two stories are very funny and very absurd. She picked up this book because we had been reading a different Margaret Mahy novel aloud.

As a family, these past two weeks we have been reading THE PIRATE'S MIXED-UP VOYAGE by Margaret Mahy and ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL by James Herriot. The Margaret Mahy makes a great read-aloud since she constantly plays with language. For example, towards the end of the story the beautiful police detective declares "I have had tremendous triumphs solving mysteries and bring malefactors to justice, so that I have become renowned and recognized everywhere." (p. 177). I love wrapping my tongue around Mahy's sentences. Margaret Mahy writes a crazy, convoluted plot that many a lesser author would lose track of. It is not easy to write a convincing story about pirates, encyclopedia salesmen, a rent-a-librarian service, and stubborn orphans. Somehow Mahy keeps us right with her as she unfolds her fantasy.

I must admit that we started reading aloud ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL by James Herriot long before the winter holidays. These stories, not written for children, work for family reading if the youngest listeners have some experience with and patience for listening to complex language. Herriot's writing is full of British expressions (no surprise since he was a vet in Yorkshire) and medical terminology. Sitll, the storie about delivering calves shile lying on the floor of a stone barn as snowflakes fall on his gbare back, are colorful and engaging. We have not finished the book yet (we don't get to it every night) but the chapters are episodic enough that we can dabble in the book without losing track of the plot.

What have you been reading over the holidays?


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