Tuesday 9 November 2010

Books to read while the frozen earth sleeps.

Cailleach, The Old Woman of Winter, has woken up and is starting her journey across the land, staff in hand banging it against the ground to send the earth into a frozen slumber.  The days are getting shorter, the nights longer and lately books have been a topic in our home.  

With two boys who are now no longer spending every waking moment with their neighbour-friends in the grassy court-yard behind our flat, we have the opportunity to read more to them.  I have wanted to put together a pile of books, chapter books and collections of short stories, to read to them over the winter months.  The problem was what would appeal to a 9 year old who devours books by himself, and a 6 year old who is just learning to decipher words.  

After rummaging through the shelves, I put together most of the books in the pile above.  From the bottom up they are the: "The Complete Winnie-The-Pooh & The House At Pooh Corner." by A.A. Milne and illustrated wonderfully and whimsically by E.H.Shepard.  We've been reading these stories for a few years, but no matter how many times the boys have heard them, they don't grow tired of them.  I missed out on these as a child, and am delighted to have had to opportunity to discover them now: they are beyond brilliant.

The next is a retelling of the Arthurian tales by Roger Lancelyn Green: "King Arthur And His Knights Of The Round Table".  Written in the 1950's the wording was at first a bit foreign to the boys, but the author has brought the adventures of Arthur and his Knights to life so well, that they were quickly lost in the action.  Beautiful black and white Illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley don't hurt.  They are rich, but still allow the reader's fantasy to paint pictures.  

Then Tolkien's "The Hobbit."  I've been wanting to put this in the reading queue for a while, but have only been granted permission by my older boy now.  The illustrations are by Alan Lee and they are sumptuous, and gorgeous, and atmospheric, and more than a little bit scary (hence the delayed addition to the queue).  I loved this book as a child and only wish this edition with these illustrations had been around then.  

The next is one which I've recently read and thoroughly enjoyed: "Troll Fell" by Katherine Langrish.  Set in Viking times, it weaves together daily life in a Scandinavia of centuries ago; Scandinavian Folklore; interesting, complicated characters; and an exciting plot.  At first, this was on the solo reading shelf for my older boy, but I've decided that it would be more fun to read it to both boys. 

Before today, the last book on the pile was "Dragon Rider" by German author Cornelia Funke.  It's in translation (I'll have to leave that up to my boys to read it in the original, I don't stand a chance).  I've read a number of her books and have enjoyed them.  They often combine magic, mythological creatures, and a fun plot.  

The top book on the pile was added this morning after a chat my husband and I had last night.  He was reading me random passages from "The Oxford Book of Quotations"  (yes, we know how to have fun) when he came to the section on nursery rhymes.  Scores and scores were referred to by their first one or two lines.  That started the game of how-many-nursery-rhymes-do-you-know?  It was embarrassing.  It was appalling how few he knew, and how fewer I knew.  And many of the ones we did know, we couldn't have gone far beyond the first couple of lines. Our boys, I'm afraid, know even fewer.

It's sad and quite astonishing how quickly things like that can be lost.  (Each Christmas, it gets harder and harder to gather around the piano to sing carols.  Even with sheet music.)  These songs and rhymes that were once so much a part of childhood, are vanishing.  Which is why I've put a copy of "The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes" compiled by Iona and Peter Opie on the pile.  

It's difficult.  On the one hand I don't want to be on some sort of contrived, anacronistic mission to bring back the nursery rhyme.  On the other, I see just how easy it is to loose these things.  Same goes  for Fairy Tales.  As I delve into the world of Fairy Tales as an adult, I'm forever encountering ones I'd never heard of and keep wondering what rock I was born under. 

So, the pile grows.  The earth falls into a long, frigid sleep.  The Old Woman of Winter continues her journey.  And hopefully, when her sister gently re-awakens the earth next year, we will not be completely and utterly fed up with the boys running around the flat reciting Hickory-Dickory-Dock at the top of their lungs.    

PS. This...

...just arrived in the post.  I'm very excited.  It will certainly be added to the pile, though I might have to steal a peek by myself.  Don't think I can wait.


  1. Oh boy, look at that last one! Want, want, want.
    And thankyou for liking mine!

  2. We've already started it. It's fabulous: gorgeous illustrations, and wonderfully chilly Nordic tales. A real treat!

  3. I know what you mean about the anxiety of wanting to instill such things as songs and rhymes in one's Young...It is something I fret about, on and off. Mine have never been able to tolerte being sung too, and I worry that they will have very little to sing to their children...

    I have an old old copy of that Kay Nielsen book--too old to read, sadly...maybe it's time to by a reprint!

  4. Thanks for your comment, Charlotte. I have also found the singing to be a particular problem with my boys: as with your children, they often haven't wanted to be sung to. Is it because singing is no longer a natural part of family life and entertainment? In my mother's generation they would regularly gather around the piano and sing (television wasn't so enticing then in its flickery, black and white form, and there weren't as many diversions as there seem to be today).

    On an up-note, we have been enjoying the Kay Nielsen book. I had read a couple of Amazon reviews which complained that the reprint wasn't as good quality as the original, but I've found it to be completely satisfactory. You are lucky, though, to have an old copy which has obviously been well read and enjoyed!