Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Lofting’

Briefly noted: Children’s books

May 2, 2022

Today, brief notes on a few read-aloud books that I’ve done with the kids.

*

Tuck Everlasting
Natalie Babbitt
(Scholastic, 1975)
139 p.

If you could choose to live forever, would you? This is the question hanging in the air behind this ambitious little children’s novel. We meet Winnie, a girl of ten who is lonely at home until she meets the Tuck family, who have discovered a spring of water that renders those who drink it immortal.

The natural inclination for a child — for my children, anyway — would be to take the water, and this is a basically healthy impulse, implicitly affirming the goodness of life and of the world. But there would be downsides too, in this vale of tears. The Tucks must keep moving, never able to form long-term friendships with anyone lest their agelessness become evident in time. They must evade authorities who might have a reason to know their history. Their personal development is arrested, and their lives risk losing focus, becoming merely interminable. Which would you choose?

We basically enjoyed the book — a read-aloud with an 8 yo and 10 yo — although there was a narrative thread of romantic undercurrents between Winnie and a 17-year old boy that made my hair stand on end. For crying out loud. The book closed on a strong note.

***

Half Magic
Edward Eager
(Scholastic, 2000) [1954]
192 p.

This is a sweet and funny tale about four siblings who discover a wish-granting charm — except that instead of granting wishes outright, it grants them by halves. A good premise. It makes for some rough going in the early stages of these wish-making adventures, but, once the idiosyncrasies of the charm are (mostly) mastered, the story becomes a delightful romp as they try to figure out what to do with this unlooked-for power, or what this power might be trying to do to them. If you were so inclined, the book could inspire good conversations about the value of reticence in the use of a new technology.

Because there is a simple mapping between the four children in the story and my own children, I changed the names of the characters as I read the book aloud, which occasioned much hilarity as the story proceeded.

***

The Story of Dr Dolittle
Hugh Lofting
(Dover, 2005) [1920]
96 p.

This is a pleasant little tale about a doctor turned veterinarian who has discovered the gift of conversing with animals. He first becomes impoverished because, of course, animals cannot pay him to treat their ailments, but then, responding to a plague striking the monkeys of Africa, he embarks on a great adventure to save them, making many animal friends along the way. He returns home, after a detour to find the missing father of a boy kidnapped by pirates (and the detour is about as arbitrary as it sounds), laden with gifts and with custody of a remarkable little creature — a pushmi-pullyu — that English people will pay to see. Dr Dolittle thereby grows wealthy, but never stops being pleasant.

The story of the book is rather silly, but this is part of its appeal. The main attraction is the writing, which maintains a humorous tone without stooping to punchlines, and which sounds good when read aloud. There is an episode during the African adventures which uses words now considered racial slurs, but this episode has been excised from this Dover edition.