rivka: (books)
Some friends invited us over for dinner tonight, a lovely relaxed end to what has been a very hectic (albeit enjoyable) day. Their youngest son, who I think is around ten and has only spoken a few words to me in passing before, somehow fixated on me and spent much of the evening telling me about the plot of his fantasy trilogy. He is 103 pages into the first book, but he seems to have the full trilogy planned out. It is very complicated. My comprehension was not helped by the fact that he spoke very quietly (either so that Alex would not hear the scary parts or that his brother wouldn't hear the details, I'm not sure which) but at about a hundred words a minute.

He offered to e-mail me his book-so-far. It just arrived.

I am charmed, and a little mystified, and extremely honored that he has given me his manuscript to read.

"Most people who read it say it's the best thing they've ever read," he told me modestly.

I think I love this kid.
rivka: (books)
I know that there are some parents of early readers on my friends list ([livejournal.com profile] naomikritzer, [livejournal.com profile] wiredferret, [livejournal.com profile] kcobweb...) and also some librarians. And of course probably most of the people who read my LJ were early and omnivorous readers yourselves. I'm looking for some suggestions.

Alex's reading has taken off in a big way recently. (Most frequent phrase out of our mouths these days: "Put down the book and [wash your hands for dinner/brush your teeth/put your coat on/eat your lunch/etc. etc. etc.]")

She's got her own children's-easy-series books that she's tearing through independently and in a hurry: Magic Tree House, Disney Fairies, Secrets of Droon, et cetera. But she's also now capable of reading what I think of as "regular" chapter books: books which are just there to tell stories, instead of being explicitly constructed to have a limited vocabulary, simple sentence structures, and lots of repetition. For example, Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party are current hits (and much recommended).

Here are the characteristics I'm looking for:
  • Good books of reasonable literary quality, at roughly a middle-elementary reading level. Toys Go Out is rated at a fourth-grade reading level, and it seemed to be about right. Something she might need a bit of help with is fine.

  • Either fiction or nonfiction is good. Alex particularly loves history.

  • Content appropriate for a five- or six-year-old. This means, on the one hand, an absence of long elevated descriptive passages, and on the other hand, an absence of socially realistic depictions of child abuse, romance as a main theme, scary violence, etc.

  • Not excessively focused on social conflicts between kids and the social milieu of school. Alex might read like an eight-year-old, but she is squarely five on a social level, and she just doesn't get books that focus on girls being catty to each other and school playground dynamics. Which a lot of contemporary books at this level seem to do.


Thanks for any suggestions you can give me! Books which aren't Important Children's Classics are particularly welcome, because I've already gotten a bunch of suggestions from lists that focus on that type of thing.

Edited to add an additional characteristic I'm looking for: Because Alex is a fairly new reader, I want to avoid heavy use of dialect ("Hit's an 'orse, guvnor!") and weird language use for now. We can deal with that sort of thing in read-alouds, though.

Also edited to compile a list of particularly likely suggestions:
Farley Mowatt: Owls in the Family, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be
Ransome: Swallows and Amazons
Grace Lin: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
American Girls series
Joan Aiken: Arabel and Mortimer
Kate Di Camillo: The Tale of Despereaux
Michael Bond: Paddington Bear
Bunnicula
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Encyclopedia Brown
Clyde Robert Bulla historical fiction
Astrid Lindgren: Children of Noisy Village
Mordecai Richler: Jacob Two Two
rivka: (books)
I'm reading A Little Princess to Alex right now. If you don't know the book, the rest of this post won't make any sense to you, but I feel compelled to post it anyway.

Apparently, at some point in the past I gave Alex a brief plot synopsis of the whole book so that she could decide whether or not it was too sad to read. It's the only thing that kept her going through today's chapter, "The Diamond Mines Again," in which Sara is orphaned and impoverished in one stroke.

She sniffled a little as she leaned against my side. Then she looked up at me trustingly. "Mom? When Sara's father's friends come to find her in the end, do they kill Miss Minchin?"

...It occurs to me that she may not feel that my promise of a happy ending holds up.
rivka: (books)
Cryoburn is out. So is All Clear. And my birthday is on Tuesday, which means that I shouldn't buy either one of them for myself yet.

Poor, tragical little me.
rivka: (I love the world)
I'm not sure I've ever done this before, but I have to promote this comment to a main post:

Emma commented on the post I titled "My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia."

Are you quoting the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day? You must be! In Australia, it reads "Some days are like that, even in Timbuktu". Just so you know.

I don't know why, but I am so unbelievably charmed to know this. Logically, it makes perfect sense that Australian children wouldn't want to face down an awful day by muttering "I think I'll move to Australia." I just never knew they had an alternative. Now I do, and I'm sharing that knowledge with you.
rivka: (for god's sake)
How could I forget the cardinal rule of children's literature:

The beloved pet always dies in the end.

In my defense, I would never have dreamed that that trope started as early as the I Can Read series. But it does.

Alex sobbed. "Why would they WRITE a children's book like that?" she demanded. Um. Not sure. In middle grades novels, the dog dies to symbolize the lost innocence of childhood. But I-Can-Read books are for little kids.

Worst. Mother. Ever.
rivka: (books)
If you haven't been reading Mark Reads Harry Potter, you totally should be. Mark is a 26-year-old guy who somehow made it to adulthood without ever reading a Harry Potter book, watching a Harry Potter movie, or encountering fandom. Now he's reading the series a chapter at a time and blogging his reactions before going on to read any further. His hundreds of commenters are all sitting on their hands desperately trying not to post spoilers - especially when he says things like "I'm really interested to see how Sirius's plotline develops" halfway through Order of the Phoenix.

This might be a good time to pick it up - he's just published an annotated index to his entries which makes navigation much easier. He's going to be starting Half-Blood Prince on Monday.
rivka: (alex & colin)
Things at work are... interesting. And so you guys get a post about my kids!

The Colin version: Michael is allergic to oranges, so we didn't let Colin try them until he was a year old. The other day I set out a snack for the kids to share: clementine segments and graham crackers. Colin was thrilled. I didn't realize quite how thrilled, until he toddled over with cheeks puffed out like a squirrel in November and, with difficulty, extracted two segments from his mouth and put them back on the plate. He still looked a little funny after that, so Michael made him open his mouth. Two more segments were still in there. At least he seemed to have those two under control. Michael urged him to chew and swallow, and Colin looked at him blankly: Why would anyone want to stop having oranges in their mouth?

Perhaps ten minutes after that, he came over and tugged at my sweater hem. I picked him up to nurse. It felt distinctly strange. So I unlatched him and poked my finger in... and tucked against his gum like a plug of chewing tobacco? One last orange segment.

"You can't nurse with food in your mouth," I told him, and put him down. I don't know which one of us was more surprised that I would make a rule like that.

The Alex version: Alex has two passions right now: Disney movies and the Middle Ages. Guess which one I am enjoying.

During the Snowpocalypse we started burning our way through Edward Eager novels, which have held up remarkably well considering their age. She loved Half Magic and liked Magic by the Lake, but Knight's Castle has woven together her love of Robin Hood and princesses and noblewomen and castles and magic in a very satisfying way.

One of the things I love about Eager is that the characters are so passionately devoted to stories. When I read Knight's Castle as a little girl it made me desperate to go out and find a copy of Ivanhoe. Alex, too. Fortunately I was able to find an excellent, illustrated, considerably abridged version to read to her. (Yes, yes, I know, abridged books are evil. Except that this one removes the anti-Semitism as well as the excessive wordiness, so I can't be anything but grateful.) Alex, probably like generations of little girls before her, admires the dashing Rebecca and can't imagine what Ivanhoe sees in Rowena. Me either. Maybe that part got left out of the abridgment.

Two other books I particularly recommend, if you are looking to either stoke or satisfy a child's love of all things medieval: Margaret Early's beautifully illustrated retelling of Robin Hood, and Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess, Page - also vividly (and amusingly) illustrated. That one's a wee bit educational, but still very fun to read and examine the pictures. (Oh, yikes! Apparently they've taken most of the pictures out of the edition I linked to. If you look for this one, get a big illustrated version from the library.)

It's funny to see how factual bits of medieval history get woven together with fiction and with Ye Olde Disney Fairytale Past in Alex's mind. One minute she's defending some implausible detail because that's how it was done in Beauty and the Beast - and yet the next minute, she's correcting me for referring to Jasmine's home as a castle. ("Jasmine lived in a palace, Mom." "And what's the difference?" "A castle can be defended.")
rivka: (smite)
This is the worst job of professional copyediting I have ever seen.

I understand spell-check errors. I can tolerate "silting" for "sitting," I guess, and I can rescue the meaning when "for" is substituted for "floor." I wince, but I see how it happens.

But then there are the errors that make the author look stupid. Please do not have a character adjust her "economically perfect desk chair," because you will jolt me right out of the story. And FOR THE LOVE OF GOD do not have a bunch of college-educated professionals who work with language for a living as newspaper reporters and columnists keep using the construction "suppose to."

Somewhere in the dimly-lit corners of Cornell University, a bust of William Strunk, Jr. has tears trickling down its dusty face.

Updated to add: ZOMG someone just ordered "trench fries."
rivka: (books)
Alex just read aloud an Art Spiegelman graphic novel.

No, not that one.

This one. Jack and the Box, a graphic novel for emergent (i.e., beginning) readers. Which just happens to have been written by Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer prize-winning author of Maus. As you might expect, it's a somewhat unsettling story with dark notes under the surface. But engaging! Alex seemed to find it less creepy than I did.

Spiegelman's wife Francois Mouly is in charge of a new line of comics/graphic novels for very early readers. As far as I can tell, Spiegelman's only written one of them so far. I've listened to a lot of early readers lately, since Alex has been on a learning-to-read kick, and man are most of them painful to sit through. This one was cool.

I like this quote from a Booklist review: "It’s one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for moments," says Spiegelman. "After years of saying comics are not just for kids, we sort of have to say, 'But wait, they’re also for kids!' "
rivka: (books)
Alex is in the middle of having three different chapter books read aloud to her.

We had been reading Louis Sachar's Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger at bedtime. We're almost done, so when we went to the library today I picked up All-of-a-Kind Family, and we had to start it as soon as we got home. We've read four chapters already. When Michael came home, I took a break, and she asked him to start re-reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.

She's my daughter, all right.
rivka: (books)
Last night I picked up a new chapter book to read to Alex. "Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy."

We read four chapters before bed, stopping - with difficulty - at the end of Edmund's first trip to Narnia and his meeting with the White Witch.

This morning, after breakfast, Alex picked up the book and asked me to read the next chapter. At various points I tried to suggest that we stop. When we finished chapter twelve, just before "Deep Magic From the Dawn of Time," I let her know that if we read any further we wouldn't be able to stop until the end of the book. She wanted to keep going. With some difficulty, I extracted myself long enough to shower. Then we plunged back into it.

We finished the book a few minutes ago. Solidly, since breakfast time, we worked through 140 pages of dense, exciting, scary fantasy. When Aslan died - I debated putting a spoiler warning here, but come on - she sobbed and writhed on the couch in misery. I promised that it would have a happy ending and read inexorably on. Michael came in and held her while I read.

We spent some time afterward reviewing the plot. She kept coming back to the same couple of questions - why did the Witch want to kill Edmund? Why did she kill Aslan? I think it was less that she didn't understand the book and more that she was grappling with the Problem of Evil.

"That was such a saaaaad book!" she complained. "Can we read the second one?"
rivka: (phrenological head)
Last night we went to our first homeschooling event. It was billed as a "curriculum fair;" it turned out to be a massive flea market for homeschooling families to get rid of old books, curricula, games, software, resources, et cetera. (There were workshops, too, but we skipped them because they didn't seem like a good fit.) Everything I saw was very cheap, and it was nice to be able to chat a bit about how people had used things.

The biggest thing we learned is to get a babysitter next time. It was in Annapolis, which is a long way to go in after-work traffic, and when we got there the church where it was being held was swelteringly hot. Alex alternated between desperately needing everything she saw and whining that she didn't want to look at anything else. I would've liked to have more time to page through potential resources, consult with Michael, and sift through the big bins of fiction books. Oh well. There will be more.

The sponsoring group was a fundamentalist Christian homeschooling group, and, well. Mixed in with the sane resources on the various tables would be things like Astronomy God's Way. There's a good-sized secular homeschooling organization in Baltimore, so we won't be dependent on these folks for an ongoing social network. Which is good, because there's only so much biting my tongue that I can do.

At any rate, we came home with loot! )
rivka: (alex age 3.5)
Tonight Alex cried her eyes out because Edouard Laboulaye is dead.

We've been reading Lady Liberty: A Biography, which tells the story of the Statue of Liberty's conception, construction, financing, and installation in a series of first-person narratives. Laboulaye was a 19th-century French university professor who first had the idea that the French should comemmorate America's hundredth birthday with a monument.

There's a line towards the end where Bartholdi, the statue's sculptor, says he's sorry that Laboulaye didn't live to see their dream realized. Alex asked me why Laboulaye didn't live to see it, and I told her that he died while they were building the statue.

She burst into noisy sobs. "Ohhhhh, I'm so sad!"

"What's wrong?"

"I'm so sad that Laboulaye is DEAD!"

I thought she was putting me on, but genuine tears were pouring down her face. I made the mistake of trying to reason with her.

"But honey, the people in this book lived a very long time ago. More than a hundred years ago."

"Are..." her voice quavered. "Are most of them still alive?"

"No. They lived such a long long time ago that they're all dead now."

More howling sobs.

"Alex, most of them lived long lives, and they were so proud to see the statue they made. And the Statue of Liberty is still here, and people will always remember them when they see her."

"But I wanted to HUG them." She collapsed on the bed, still crying. "I never got to know them! I don't even REMEMBER them!"

It took forever to calm her down. It really seemed like genuine grief.
rivka: (books)
You guys know it's going to take me a while to get to all of these, right? Here are the book questions, grouped together.

[livejournal.com profile] kate_nepveu: Of the Aubrey-Maturin books you've read so far, which is your favorite and least favorite? Or, if that's too difficult, most memorable/lingering and least?

The Aubrey-Maturin books are so clearly chapters in the same long novel, rather than separate books, that I have great difficulty keeping track of what happens in which book. If I had to choose by whole novels, I think I'd say that Master and Commander might be my favorite. I love the beginning of Jack and Stephen's relationship, and Jack's first experiences of command. Least favorite: the last two books. I think O'Brian started to lose his touch about when to show and when to tell, and also in many ways he was just rewriting earlier bits; spoilers! )

Sumana: Are you missing any Cherry Ames books you wish people would send you?

It turns out that there's a sharp drop-off in quality after the first few books. The first four take you through Cherry's training, her efforts to decide between military service and civilian nursing, and her military career. Cherry Ames, Chief Nurse takes place in jungle hospitals on Pacific islands and is quite harrowing. I'm interested in the next one after that, Cherry Ames, Flight Nurse, because it continues the wartime setting, but judging from the poor quality of the later Cherry Ameses I've read, I have no interest in seeking out titles like Cherry Ames, Department Store Nurse.

[livejournal.com profile] marydell: What's your all-time favorite book, and why?

I can't do a singular favorite book! Hmm... it's totally cliche to say Pride and Prejudice, isn't it, but Jane Austen's books are ones that I never get sick of rereading, and P&P is my favorite of them. But yeah, total cliche. Jeez. Okay, the other book that comes to mind is Lois McMaster Bujold, either Barrayar or Memory. I'd say that Barrayar stands better on its own. I love the way it examines womanhood and motherhood from so many different angles, through so many different characters, and I love Cordelia. Memory is an even better book in some ways, but it needs the rest of the series to give it full resonance.

[livejournal.com profile] moobabe: What's your favorite nonfiction book?

If I had to pick one nonfiction book to have on a desert island, it would be the Norton Anthology of Women's Lives, which is a huge collection of excerpts from women's autobiographies.

[livejournal.com profile] ororo: What's the last book you read for your own pleasure? What did you like best about it?

It was Georgette Heyer's Cotillion. No, wait, it was Jennifer Crusie's Fast Women. That's not the best Crusie by any means, but I like that, like all her books, it has strong secondary characters who are important in their own rights - not just as appendages to the protagonists - and because there is much more going on than just the romance. Cotillion is the book I read just before Fast Women. It's my very favorite Heyer. The first time I read it, I misinterpreted the signals and thought the hero was gay. Not in a slash sense - I thought I was supposed to read the hero as gay. Boy, did the ending surprise me.
rivka: (rosie with baby)
Last night, while I was reading bedtime stories, I noticed that my continuing Braxton-Hicks contractions were starting to be both longer and more uncomfortable. So when I came downstairs, I timed them. Over the next hour, they came almost exactly eight minutes apart and lasted about a minute each time. Each contraction was not painful, but noticeable and uncomfortable.

"That looks like a pattern," I said to Michael, showing him my list of times. He agreed that it did.

"So here's what I think we should do: You clean up the living room a little in case someone winds up having to come over here. Then we should both go to bed."

We went to bed. I had some more contractions in bed. Then I went to sleep and slept all night, thus proving that I wasn't in labor. But at least the living room is clean.

Still not getting overexcited, because I did this sort of thing for weeks with Alex, but I am starting to feel like progress is happening.

So now it's time for a poll. I've been working my way through Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels in my copious free time. I've made it to #16, The Wine-Dark Sea. I'm a reasonably fast reader. So your poll question is: how close am I going to get to finishing the series?

[Poll #1343401]
rivka: (books)
Last night our young friend Sarah came over to babysit so that Michael and I could go out to dinner. While I was driving her home, she mentioned that "sci fi is all I feel like reading these days." She loves it. But the only SF she has actually encountered is the stuff her mother has passed along - meaning Asimov and Heinlein. I don't think she's read any SF published in her own lifetime.

Obviously this was a public service opportunity I couldn't pass up. I told her I'd pack up a bagful of books published in the last 20 or so years and bring them to church on Sunday.

The unfortunate part is being limited to books we actually own. We haven't bought that many new books in the last few years, except for continuations of series we collect; I do most of my reading from the library. That said, I've put together a good pile for her. Only three of the books were published before she was born in 1991 or 1992.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Shards of Honor and The Warrior's Apprentice.
Emma Bull, Bone Dance
Cory Doctorow, Little Brother
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens (not SF, but I couldn't resist)
Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark
Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife
Matt Ruff, Sewer, Gas, & Electric
Charlie Stross, The Family Trade
Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon's Daughter
Shari S. Tepper, The Family Tree
Joan D. Vinge, Psion
Connie Willis, The Doomsday Book

The two Bujolds and the Vinge are older than Sarah. But I had to get her started on Bujold, and the Vinge book is such an incredible example of Adolescent Emo that I couldn't resist giving it to a teen.

I really want to add Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and Kage Baker's In the Garden of Iden, but I can't seem to find our copies anywhere.

Talking it over with [livejournal.com profile] lynsaurus and [livejournal.com profile] unodelman, we all agreed that Octavia Butler belongs in there, but I read those books from the library. I also realized when talking to them that there needs to be something about the Singularity and posthumans and so forth. I'm not a fan of that side of the genre, but I do have a couple of Ken MacLeod books - The Stone Canal and The Cassini Division - and I could throw in one of them. I'm not sure about whether there needs to be any cyberpunk in there. On the one hand, important subgenre. On the other hand, isn't it an important subgenre that's kind of over?

Michael reminded me that Scott Westerfeld should be represented. I totally agree, but we read it all from the library. I'd like to be able to put in Uglies or Peeps. He also suggested something by John Scalzi - I thought maybe Zoe's Tale - but we don't have a copy of that either. If she likes these books, we can give her a reading list with more. I also need to find out if she likes fantasy.

What would you put in the bag, from your shelves?
rivka: (books)
I'm shopping for children's picture books for my niece Jessica, who is being raised bilingual and speaks only Spanish at home. I just found a Spanish-language version of one of my personal favorites, Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. (If you haven't read it: Small girl badger decides she only wants to eat bread and jam; it doesn't work out so well for her when her parents go along and only serve her bread and jam for every meal and snack.)

So there's a Spanish-language version, Pan y Mermelada Para Francisca. Excellent! I scroll down the Amazon page to see if there are any comments about the adequacy of the translation. Nope.

But I do come to a section Amazon has helpfully entitled, "Books on Related Topics." And what's listed there? La Revolucion Diabetica del Dr. Atkins.

Bread... jam... and a counter-suggestion of the Atkins Diet. I suppose that does make a twisted sort of sense.
rivka: (books)
A while back, I asked for recommendations for read-aloud chapter books. Since there was a lot of interest in the topic, I figured I'd provide an update about which books have worked well for us.

So far we've tried:

The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne.
I don't have to supply a plot summary for this one, right? A few of the stories went over well, but other stories are fairly pointless from a three-year-old's perspective. We never got that far into it. Principally valuable at this point because it started us off on chapter-book reading, although I'm sure she'll like it more when she's a bit older.

My Father's Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland, by Ruth Stiles Gannett.
Little boy rescues dragons from terrible predicaments, using only his ingenuity and an oddball set of supplies. These books are amazing. Really, really wonderful. Alex just completely ate them up. There is a lot of adventure, but almost nothing is actually scary. The plots move quickly. These books are charming and funny and don't show their age at all.

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Little girl grows up in the backwoods of Wisconsin in the 1870s. We read half of this very quickly, and then stopped. Some of the chapters make for great read-alouds. Others, like, uh, the hog-butchering chapter, not so much. We've had some interesting conversations about how people used to live. I guess we might take this one to Williamsburg, even though the period is off. Alex is still very fond of Laura and Mary, but she doesn't really ask for me to read this one. She's getting Little House in the Big Woods paper dolls for Christmas.

Mr. Popper's Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater.
Polar-obsessed housepainter raises a family of penguins in his suburban home. We started off fine with this one, and then Alex got bored after a few chapters and we didn't continue. I had to do a lot of modification of old-fashioned language. She might like this more in a year or two. I thought it was charming.

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl.
Abused little boy rolls off for adventure inside a giant peach, accompanied by giant insects. Alex's verdict: "Really good, but a little bit scary." We gulped this book down in just a couple of days, although I confess that I skipped the very long songs that the Centipede sings. There's a lot of brisk adventure and not too much description in this book, which is good for a three-year-old. Michael thought Alex would be traumatized by James's mean aunts, but she seemed intrigued by them instead.

Ramona the Pest and Ramona the Brave, by Beverly Cleary.
A little girl lives a little girl's life. Massive, massive hits. Ramona the Brave is 190 pages long. We got it from the library on Sunday afternoon, and finished it this morning. Plus, Alex has been pretending that Ramona is her friend who comes to her parties. I wasn't sure how much she would get these stories, because they're very elementary-school-centric, but apparently Ramona's appeal is universal. Her beautiful new red boots get stuck in the mud. Another kid copies her owl picture. She's simultaneously excited and a little creeped out by Halloween. Just, you know, kid stuff. I'm loving the books, and so is Alex.

Where next? One of the children's librarians sent us home with Ursula LeGuin's Catwings. Alex is plugging for Ramona and Her Father, although I remember it being kind of sad. And I've ordered Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle from an Amazon Marketplace seller. It feels like the whole world of reading is open to us now. We're having a lot of fun.
rivka: (books)
I've recently started reading chapter books to Alex.

Her attention span for books is good - for example, she can stay interested in long fairy tales that have a high text-to-picture ratio. So I started keeping my eyes open for longer books that we could read, a chapter or two at a time.

My first thought was The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. We tried a few of the stories, and she seemed to enjoy them well enough. But I realized that the humor in many of the stories is over her head. "Winnie-the-Pooh and the Bee Tree," sure, or the one where he gets stuck in Rabbit's hole after eating too much honey. But a lot of the stories are more subtle. Maybe in a couple of years...

My Father's Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett, is a book I never read as a child but have frequently seen recommended as a good first chapter book. I picked up a copy on my Wild Woman Weekend, with the idea that we'd go through its 77 pages a chapter or two at a time. Alex had different ideas. We wound up reading the whole book in one big gulp. It really is a perfect chapter book for a preschooler: action-packed, funny, suspenseful and exciting without being scary. The day after we finished it, she lay with it on the couch retelling it to herself, using the pictures to prompt her memory. She'd clearly taken in quite a lot. Fortunately, there are sequels.

Now we're trying out Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We've read two chapters so far, one per night. I'm skipping over some of the more long-winded descriptions. Alex really seems to like it - we've read some of the "My First Little House" picture book series, and so she was excited to have a whole long book about Laura and Mary.

It's hard to think of good chapter books for a 3.5-year-old. Alex may be a smart kid with a big vocabulary, but she lacks the life experience needed to make sense out of most books aimed at older children. And I don't really want to introduce scary or violent themes at this age. Internet discussions of what books people read to their preschoolers have often not been tremendously helpful. (You read The Hobbit to your three-year-old? Really? And The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Either my kid is sheltered and unsophisticated, or your kids are baby geniuses, or you're lying about how much they got out of it.)

Does anyone have any recommendations? I was thinking maybe Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle could come next, but it would probably be good to find some books that were written less than 50 years ago, for the sake of variety.

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