Classics for Kids: The Phantom Tollbooth

Book cover for The Phantom TollboothIf you are a librarian and also a parent, you might dream about your kids growing up to be word-nerds, just like you. Thanks to the bedtime ritual of reading chapter books to my youngest daughter, I recently had the deep pleasure of revisiting a childhood favorite full of wordplay: “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. I’m glad to report that the book holds up to the years that have passed since it was first published in 1961.

Grade-schooler Milo, the story’s hero, is always bored and uninterested, unable to see the wonder of the everyday world around him. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his bedroom, he travels to the Lands Beyond filled with incredible characters, like Tock the watchdog (with an actual clock face in his body) and a spelling bee (a bee who talks and, of course, spells). Continue reading

Classics for Kids: The Secret Garden

The Secret GardenWhen I was a little girl, I must have read Francis Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” at least ten times. I was absolutely fascinated by almost everything about it. The old house with a name (Misselwaithe Manor? Why didn’t I think of this, let’s name our house! Suffice it to say, whatever title I dreamed up didn’t catch on in my childhood home) that was gigantic enough to make it hard to know who all lived there, the overgrown garden that had been locked up for mysterious reasons, the way the British lived in India, the sensory descriptions of how bringing the garden back to life felt and smelled…I ate it all up. It was like a fairy tale that could actually happen, and the story felt both nostalgic and exotic at the same time. I had never heard of a moor, and I had certainly never encountered phonetic spelling of a thick Yorkshire accent like that of the the undermaid, Martha. Continue reading

Classics for Kids: Charlotte’s Web

Book cover for Charlotte's Web by E. B. WhiteOnce again, I’ve learned the great joy of revisiting a book from my childhood. I thought I remembered the story of E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” but it turns out those memories were muddled by images from the animated film based on the book and largely revolve around the spider Charlotte and the pig she saves, Wilbur. On a recent road trip, my family listened to the audiobook version of this classic, read by White himself—a real delight as his New England accent and warm voice are a perfect match for the text and create the feeling of being told a story by one’s grandfather. I was surprised to learn that the pig’s initial savior is 8-year-old Fern. Mr. Arable, Fern’s father, is set to slaughter the runt of the litter, but Fern pleads for Wilbur’s life to be spared.

“Fern was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice. As a result, she now has a pig. A small one to be sure, but nevertheless a pig. It just shows what can happen if a person gets out of bed promptly.” When I heard this line, I really, really hoped my 9-year-old was listening. Getting her out of bed in the morning is torture. Continue reading

Classics For Kids: Beverly Cleary Audio Collection

The Beverly Cleary Audio CollectionLike many people these days, I’m always on the go, so I love DBRL’s collection of downloadable audiobooks, made available through a service called OverDrive. I simply download and transfer audiobooks to my iPhone (mp3 players and iPods will also play them) and listen to stories while I drive, walk the dog, wash the dishes, exercise, etc.

Many kids’ titles are available for download, both new books and classics. These are great for families to listen to during long car trips. Audiobooks can also be a good transitional tool for reluctant readers, either alone or with the print copy to follow along. Some books are even better to listen to, when the narrators do a good job of dramatizing the story.

I recently decided to check out “The Beverly Cleary Audio Collection” because it had six books in one download. Continue reading

Classics for Kids: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Book cover for From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerPractically every kid has dreamed of running away from home, or at least embarking on an adventure of some sort. Personally, I’ve always fantasized about secretly lingering after-hours and spending the night someplace I shouldn’t, like a candy shop, a bookstore or a museum. Perhaps this is why I love, love, love “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” (1967) by E. L. Konigsburg.

Twelve-year-old Claudia and her brother Jamie (selected as her partner-in-crime for the sizable sum he has saved in his piggy bank) run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The sharp and responsible (well, except for the running away part) Claudia has meticulously planned their escape, and the kids cleverly use the resources of the museum to get by. They sleep in a royal bed and pilfer money from the fountain. After a few nights in the museum, Claudia sees a statue so beautiful, she feels compelled to identify its sculptor and perhaps become famous in the process. To find out the statue’s origin, she must visit its former owner, the elderly Mrs. Frankweiler.

Snappy, funny dialogue. Living in a gorgeous museum among exquisite art. Running away to one of the world’s most exciting cities. Solving a mystery. What’s not to love? Put this book in the hands of your favorite precocious kiddo (or adult). They will thank you for it.