Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Amy's Top Five: Chapter Books to Read with Kids.

I love to read.


I love the escape, the fantasy, the surprises, and the emotional releases books provide.

I love turning the pages, anticipating the next twist, and cheering for the underdog.

And what I've discovered in the past few years is that I also love reading with my children.

Yes, I enjoyed reading to my duo when they were wee little tikes. I enjoyed endured Where is Baby's Belly Button so many times the flap covering baby's belly button is nowhere to be found.

I also enjoyed teaching my duo to read. Watching their faces light up as they grasped a new sound and could put together -- Dog on a log -- was one of the true joys of motherhood.

But what I really love, is reading true children's literature with my children. My kids are quite competent readers on their own, but I still love cuddling in bed or on the couch and fully immersing ourselves - transporting all three of us to another world - through the imagery and prose of a really good book.

This list contains, in my humble opinion, a special class of literature: children's books which have as much to offer to adults as children.

I believe each book on this list weaves timeless and universal themes through eloquent prose; incorporating unexpected characters and intriguing plots. I am also not afraid to admit that every single one of them made me cry. Like a baby. Which is when Little Miss Thang grabs the books and takes a turn reading.

Amy's Top Five: Chapter Books to Read with Kids:  

In the book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon the main character, a young girl named Minli, decides to change the fortune of her very materially poor family. She embarks on a quest during which she meets many interesting characters - a talking goldfish, a dragon who cannot fly, greedy monkeys, a King, and many more. Minli's quick mind, generosity, caring, and selflessness eventually take her all the way to the one she seeks: the Old Man of the Moon. 

With this book, Grace Lin has created an entire magical world as well as an enchanting piece of literature. The language is filled with original similes based on Chinese culture, and the imagery that Ms. Lin creates is both vivid and powerful. The book is skillfully woven within a patchwork of Chinese legends. Ms. Lin reworks the legends to fit seamlessly into her engaging plot. Not a thread is out of place, and all the pieces fit smoothly together by the end of the story.  

Long after putting the book down, readers will still remember the story. And hopefully a few of us will truly digest the true secret to happiness revealed therein.

We could not read this book fast enough.  Upon completion Boy Genius aptly said: "I think that was the best book we've ever read." I tend to agree.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. 

A Wrinkle in Time has remained, to this day, one of my all time favorite books. My memory of reading this book as a child is so vivid it undoubtedly made an impact on me at the time. Years later, reading it with my duo, it did so again.

A Wrinkle in Time is a book that defies easy classification -- it isn't typical fantasy or sci-fi, it's a children's novel that integrates physics and philosophy into the story, and it's rife with religious symbolism. L'Engle also had a truly sublime writing style -- she wrote in a rich, almost sensual style with lots of little details that make you feel like you are actually present with the characters. This is a story where you can be instantly swept from our planet to a dark world filled with four-armed eyeless yetis, or a grey planet of perfect order, and somehow it feels wholly real.

A Wrinkle in Time is a novel that expanded my horizons as a young child and has done so again. As L'Engle says in her medal acceptance speech, "A book, too, can be a star, `explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,' a living fire to lighten the darkness leading out into the expanding universe."

What can I say that has not already been said? The Potter series is, quite simply: magical and this book is where the magic begins. I waited to read the series  with my children, not has the books were published. We started reading out loud together, but after we were swept into the world of Hogwarts with the Sorcerer's Stone, the kids left me in the dust and forged ahead solo. Boy Genius and Little Miss Thang read all seven books in a little under two months early this summer {it took me another six weeks to catch up}.

One of the best things about this book, and indeed about the whole series, is how Rowling plants details which, when reading, you may not necessarily pick up on, but are later rather important in later volumes. Who would think Griphook and Hagrid's admonition no one breaks into Gringotts would have such prominence in Book 7? Or the importance of Harry being able to talk to the boa constrictor, something which is not referenced again until Book 2 and then not fully explained until Book 7? Or the Invisibility Cloak, a device first introduced in this novel, but you have no idea of its importance, or even that it has real significane, until Book 7. 

Rowling is the undisputed queen of her genre, and an inspiration on how it's done. With this series she has most certainly proven that good fiction doesn't have to be snooty or pretentious to be classic.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

In The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane we are given a glimpse of arrogance gone wild. The china doll is made to feel special and is loved so much by his owner that he can't conceive he holds any other position than the center of the universe. Then, in an unexpected event, Edward Tulane is thrust into the depths of despair and only thru the kind acts of others is he taught the meaning of love.

Each of his various handlers and owners throughout his journey contribute to Edward's salvation in a small way. And through his journey we all learn about the redemptive, transformative, and enduring power of love.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White.

Part of this novel's brilliance is the fact that the author makes a heroine out of a spider: a creature that many people probably regard with fear. White's Charlotte is a truly remarkable character from whom we learn truths about love, friendship and sacrifice.

White's witty, compassionate prose style is an ideal vehicle for telling the story of Charlotte and her friends. Charlotte's Web is a masterful blend of whimsy, humor, gentle satire, and life-and-death drama. But above all, it is a powerful story of friendship. Deeply moving and superbly written, this is a book which, I believe, will always endure as a treasured classic.

Have you and your children read any enduring  books that touched you as much, or possibly more, than your children?

Please share them with me in the comments below! 

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