Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, wrote a second book called Hey! Listen to This. It’s a collection of stories for reading aloud to young children. I read it many years ago and don’t remember anything about what stories are in the book; what I do remember, have never forgotten, is his story about the book’s title. He said his kids teased him about saying those words more than any other: “Hey, listen to this!”—and then he’d read aloud something that had fired his enthusiasm in a book, newspaper, magazine he was reading.
I laughed out loud the first time I read that anecdote, because that’s exactly what Scott and I did to each other all the time. We were practically newlyweds then, but it’s a habit that hasn’t changed over the years. At any given moment, someone, somewhere in my house, is likely to call out, “Hey, check this out” or “Whoa! You’ve gotta hear this!” and read a passage aloud for anyone in the vicinity.
Our bedsides are piled with books and articles one of us read and thought someone else would enjoy too. I suppose the flurry of links we email back and forth is an extension of that pile. Once upon a time, I was the one strewing reading material in Jane’s path. These days she strews just as much, or more, back into mine. Muse magazine has been the jumping-off point for a thousand heady discussions. I’m still working my way through the Redwall books she loves so dearly, not to mention the Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons series. She has more time to read than I do, so I get the fun of restocking her pile on practically a daily basis.
I’ve been reading Edward Eager’s Knight’s Castle to Beanie. It’s the sequel to Half Magic, and if you don’t know these books, you are so lucky because all the fun is still in front of you. Eager was (like me) a huge fan of Edith Nesbit’s children’s books. He set out to write books in the same rich and rollicking spirit, and he succeeded beautifully. Half Magic is the story of four siblings who find a magic charm that grants wishes. Sort of. It’s an old charm and only grants wishes at half strength, resulting in much mishap, hilarity, and confusion. For example, the youngest girl wishes her cat could talk, and the poor beast winds up able to speak a garbled, nonsensical half-version of English. The cat’s outraged utterances have become regular contributions to discussion around here. “Idgwits! Foos!”
The young heroes of Knight’s Castle, much to my children’s delight, are the children of the Half Magic kids. Jane tells me that the next book in the series, and I can’t remember if it’s Magic by the Lake or The Time Garden, but I’m thinking the former, is another story about the four Half Magic children, and then the fourth book is about their kids again. I’m told that the most delicious part is that the second generation of children actually get to meet their parents as children, though I don’t think they let their young future parents in on the secret.
One of my favorite things about Eager’s writing is his fondness for referencing other authors, other books. Nesbit in particular (the Half Magic and Knight’s Castle kids alike are great fans), but also Sir Walter Scott, Jane Porter, and many others. It’s as if Eager is always crying out, “Hey, listen to this!” and gushing about the books that set his imagination on fire.
Yesterday when I was reading to Beanie, Rose got sucked in. She’s read Half Magic herself but not the rest of the series, and she had thought she’d prefer to read them on her own but the snippet she overheard yesterday proved too bewitching, and she decided she wanted to hear the book out loud after all. She asked if I would catch her up, so we started over at the beginning and read all afternoon, and that’s why dinner was late.
In chapter two the children (two sets of cousins) are taken to see Ivanhoe, much to the delight of young Robert, who, we’re told, is in a yeomanry phase. Back at home, a massive Ivanhoe reenactment is set up by all four of the kids. The descriptions of Scott’s colorful characters had Rose and Bean clamoring to watch the same movie. (“In Technicolor, just like in the book!” says Bean.) Jane thinks it’s cool that Ivanhoe, the novel, makes an appearance in so many of her favorite books. It’s a plot point in one of the Betsy-Tacy high-school books, I forget which; I always loved the bit about how Betsy narrates the plot to two friends who forgot to read the assigned book over the summer, and they get perfect marks on the summaries they’re made to write on the first day of school, but Betsy herself, a devoted fan of the book, waxes on in such detail that she runs out of time while still describing the opening episode—and is severely rebuked by her teacher, who takes her paper as evidence that she never read more than the first chapter. Ouch, dear Betsy, I feel your pain.
When I was researching the fourth Charlotte book (I think it was the fourth), I found a Boston newspaper article from the year in which that book takes place excitedly announcing the arrival on U.S. shores of Sir Walter Scott’s latest novel, Ivanhoe. Naturally, I couldn’t resist including that event in the book, so Charlotte’s family enjoys it as their own read-aloud.
We were just talking yesterday about yet another children’s book that references Ivanhoe, but I forget what it was and Jane isn’t up yet. Probably there are many, but she was talking about one in particular.
I think Edward Eager would have gotten a kick out of knowing that Jeanne Birdsall set out to write her delightful novel The Penderwicks “in the spirit of Edward Eager and E. Nesbit.” The Penderwick children are also great devourers and quoters of books.
As I’m writing this, iChat is pinging me to let me know that Scott, making his early-morning internet rounds on the other computer, is saying “check this out” about something interesting he’s come across. Whatever it is, it’ll probably show up later in one of my del.icio.us link autoposts, the 21st-century version of “Hey! Listen to this!”
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Call Me Al
Books Read in February