Tag Archives: England

Architecture According to Pigeons


This book purports to be written by a pigeon. And it is about architecture. (Let us accept from the beginning that it is deeply odd.) It is also jam packed with real information; while my oldest has read most (all?) of it, I have not read very much of it aloud. Instead, I’ve focused on the names of the buildings (human and pigeon) and the eye-catching pictures, which had the unexpected result of my youngest (already a huge pigeon fan) becoming sure he spoke fluent pigeon. About six months ago, he frequently approached pigeons asking them excitedly if the were going to see the Great Worm (also known as the Great Wall of China) and was very disappointed when they flew away without responding.

Author: Speck Lee Tailfeather (aided by Stella “Pigeon Whisperer” Gurney)
Illustrator: Natsko Seki

The Tiger Who Came to Tea


In the words of my youngest: “I love this one! The tiger eats everything!” Charming, very British, and perfect for before bed.

Author: Judith Kerr
Illustrator: Judith Kerr

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is another book that needs no introduction and is utterly wonderful. Though there are many hints of the darkness to come (gulp), the tone is largely playful and the story and setting are as imaginative as ever. And it is here that Ms. Rowling, through Dumbledore, quietly states a message that goes to the heart of the series: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

About a year and a half ago, after we enjoyed reading the first book in this series together, I read half of this second book to my oldest before he lost interest. Now a number of his friends are reading the series and he decided to give it another try. He raced through the rest of the book (mostly by himself) in a matter of days and then hopped straight into the third and fourth books in the series (more on them to follow).

Author: J.K. Rowling
Illustrator: Mary Grandpre

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe


I’m going to assume you know the plot of Wardrobe, given its status as an extremely widely-read, acknowledged classic of children’s literature. You may not know, however, that there is much controversy over which book in the Narnia series should be considered the first one. I started our journey to Narnia here, as Mr. Lewis did midway through the last century, because I think starting with the later-written prequel, The Magician’s Nephew, ruins the mystery and magic of Wardrobe.

I wasn’t sure how Wardrobe would work as a read-aloud and was pleasantly surprised to find it worked beautifully. Reading it aloud took much less time than I had expected and my oldest was very interested throughout.

First caveats:

Most adults know the Narnia books have a very Christian subtext, but most children (judging by my son and my childhood self) do not notice, at least with the early books in the series. A lion that dies to redeem the sins of others and then comes back to life? Carry on! It is no stranger than a magical chocolate factory staffed by oompa loompas or a father who goes out for some milk and is delayed by aliens, pirates, vampires, and space-traveling-talking dinosaurs. Whether you love that or hate the subtext, some familiarity with Narnia is is necessary for cultural literacy (for example, without Narnia, the excellent His Dark Materials trilogy wouldn’t make nearly as much sense). There is a bit of obvious sexism in this book, but it is not outrageous, particularly for the time period in which it was written.

Further caveats (with spoilers):

I’m not sure how far we’ll venture into this series together; I read Wardrobe early on as a child and really enjoyed it, but checked others in the series out of the library out of order and got deeply discouraged by The Magician’s Nephew (which I thought explained things that needed no explanation and just wasn’t terribly interesting) and then The Last Battle (which, among many other issues, has the Problem of Susan; nearly universally unsympathetic and one-dimensional characters; and an apocalypse, in every sense of the word, that destroys Narnia) and gave up on the series. But I recently read the third book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (which was sent to me through a shipping error), and think my oldest would love it (although it comes with some caveats of its own, which I’ll detail if it ever gets its own entry) so I’ve ordered Prince Caspian to see if we should read it before Dawn Treader.

Final caveat:

Make sure your child is old enough for this book and this series; when good and evil battle things out in Narnia (and they do at least once in each of the Narnia books I have read) the details are vivid and the outcomes can be very, very grim.

Author: C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes

The Reluctant Dragon


“Don’t worry, Father. It’s only a dragon.”
“Only a dragon?” cried his father. “What do you mean,
a dragon? And how do
you know so much about it?”
“I just do,” replied the boy. “You know about sheep, and
weather, and things.
I know about dragons. I always said that
that was a dragon cave. I always said it ought to have a dragon.
In fact, I would have been surprised if you told me it
got a dragon. Now, please, just leave all this to me. I’ll stroll
up tomorrow evening and have a talk with him.”

Stories of dragons rarely fail us; although this story is quite long (albeit slightly edited in this version), it is very charming and my youngest frequently requests it.

Author: Kenneth Grahame
Illustrator: Inga Moore


Saint George and the Dragon


In the days when monsters and giants and fairy folk lived in
England, a noble knight was riding across a plain. He wore heavy
armor and carried an ancient silver shield marked with a red cross. It
was dented with the blows of many battles fought long ago by other
brave knights.

The Red Cross Knight had never yet faced a foe, and did not even
know his name or where he had been born. But now he was bound on
a great adventure, sent by the Queen of the Fairies to try his young
strength against a deadly enemy, a dragon grim and horrible.

This is not a short read aloud and it is (unsurprisingly) quite gory. But it is interesting and strange and has dragons. The boys love it.

Author: Margaret Hodges/Edmund Spenser
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World


Making an apple pie is really very easy.
First, get all the ingredients at the market.
Mix them well, bake, and serve.

Unless, of course,
the market is closed.

In that case, go home and pack a suitcase.

The pie-craving protagonist travels to Italy (for wheat), Frances (for a chicken that lays “elegant eggs”), Sri Lanka (for kurundu bark), England (for a cow to provide milk), Jamaica (for seawater and sugar cane), and Vermont (for apples). Once the traveling is through, all she will have to do is:

mill the wheat into flour,
grind the kurundu
bark into cinnamon,
evaporate the seawater
from the salt,
boil the sugar cane,
persuade the chicken
to lay an egg…

Well, you get the idea. This book is thoughtful, colorful, and quietly funny. Perhaps it was inspired by the famous Carl Sagan quote: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” (My youngest swears by the apple pie recipe on the last page.)

Author: Marjorie Priceman
Illustrator: Marjorie Priceman

The Complete Brambly Hedge


This book is a compilation of cozy, old-fashioned stories about a community of mice in England.  (It really feels quite British, at least to this American.)  There is lots of loving discussion of food and games and activities (the creation of a beautiful ice hall to have a Snow Ball in is a favorite).  But the sweet stories may just be an excuse for the tremendously detailed, wonderful illustrations.  The many cross section pictures (like the one above) are particular favorites.

Author:  Jill Barklem
Illustrator:  Jill Barklem

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


I’m not going to pretend this book needs an introduction.  I read it on my honeymoon and now I’ve read it to my six year old.  I loved it then.  He loves it now. 

Author:  J.K. Rowling
Illustrator: Mary Grandpre