Category: Books (Page 2 of 11)

Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children – Review

Classics to Read Aloud to Your ChildrenI have to confess that I have a pretty bad history of reading outloud to my children. I cannot stand reading a book I don’t personally like, or reading a book over and over and over (something which Camila still enjoys). Mike doesn’t mind it as much, so he’s been in charge of reading to our kids (and putting them to bed) for a number of years now. I do, however, like the closeness that comes with sharing a book with my daughters so I’ve been trying to find books that I can actually enjoy reading to them. This is much easier with Mika, who is almost 9 years old and has pretty catholic literary tastes. Camila still likes picture books.
I got Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children by William F. Russell on Paperback Swap and so far I am very happy with it. I have read 3 1/2 stories and so far, so good.
This book includes selections from classic novels and poems specifically chosen for parents to read to their children. Stories are divided into 3 levels (for kids 5, 8 and 11 and up) based on the complexity of the language and the emotional maturity required to understand the story. The stories are as originally written – these are not children’s versions -, which means that they include old fashioned vocabulary, syntax and motifs. The author believes that children’s oral understanding is much greater than their written one, so that while kids would probably not be able to read the stories themselves they will grasp them when/if read by their parents. I think the stories are pretty challenging, and I really like that about it.
So far the book is working well for Mika but not for Camila. Camila loudly objects to the fact that the book has no pictures at all (not even the occasional black and white drawing). She rebels against the book and is very disinclined to give it a chance. A few days ago somehow we cajoled her into listening to The Ugly Duckling (in a translation different from the one I linked to) and, at the end, she said she enjoyed this story more than the other versions we’d told her, apparently because it’s more complex. She didn’t seem to mind/notice the part about the ducks being shot, but it’s there, so you are warned. But she refused to hear a story from the book today.
Mike read to Mika and I the selection from Tom Sawyers about the painting of the fence. I enjoyed the chapter thoroughly. I remembered it so fondly from my childhood and this was actually the first time I experienced it in English. Twain’s use of language is masterful. Alas, it was a little bit too difficult for Mika – but she enjoyed it in retrospect and I think she’ll be willing to have me read her the chapter again.
Today, I read her The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry. This is a story about two would-be-kidnappers who abduct a child that terrorizes them. It’s very funny and good natured, and while the language was a bit complex for Mika, she enjoyed it, as did I.
Then I started reading the selection from Black Beauty, which is actually in the section for kids 5 years and older, and while Camila was quickly bored (no pictures) Mika was fascinated by this story told from the point of view of a horse. We didn’t finish the chapter, but she wants me to get her the book 🙂
The book also contains selections from Shakespeare, Jack London, Stephen Crane, Hawthorn and the Greeks. There is a lot of poetry as well as holiday readings (including a selection from the Bible). I am looking forward to continue reading it.

Paperback Swap

paperback-swap.jpgOver a year ago I wrote about Swap Tree (now just called, a website that allows you to trade books with other users. I enjoyed it for the few months I was in it, but soon enough all my desirable books were gone and I wasn’t getting any more requests. I finally quit a few months ago when they instituted a fee-per-trade (50c to $1). So for many months I’ve been keeping my used books at home, planning to take them to the library (for their sale) sometime.

Apparently, I may not need to do that. My friend Cynthia introduced me to and, so far, it’s worked for me quite well. Paperbackswap has similar mechanics to – you enter the books you have, you are given a list of books you can get -, but it’s much more flexible and gives you access to many more books (about 5 million currently). It’s also free. While works by linking you to someone who has a book who you want, who in turn wants a book from a third person who wants the book that you have, Paperbackswap gives you access to all the books posted by all their members. Every time you mail a book to anyone you get a point, which you get to spend on any book they have listed. Unlike you can “bank” your points, so if you don’t see anything you want now, you can wait until it comes about. You can put things in your waiting lists and so forth. My take is that people who have popular books have a better chance to get what they want in, but if your books are not that popular you have a better chance of getting rid of them at Paperbackswap. Indeed, I’ve been surprised at the obscure titles I’ve gotten off my hands (e.g. I sent Spiritual Friendship, a book I bought for my Medieval Intellectual History class in college, to a student @ some seminary). Now, I haven’t been able to get any of the books I really want (mostly expensive cookbooks) but I’ve been able to find a few gems within their listings (including Religions Explained: A Beginner’s Guide to World Faiths, which is a great intro to religions for little kids).

If you are interested in joining Paperback Swap, please give my e-mail address ( as a referral when you do. If you post 10 books, I’ll get 1 free credit (and you’ll get 2!).

My personal bookshelf of books I have for trading is here. If you are local and want any of the books, please let me know and I’ll hold it for you (otherwise join paperbackswap :-).

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths – Review

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek MythsMika, my 8-year old, is very much into ancient mythology (among many other things). But this is an interest I’m particularly happy to encourage not only because it helps give her a balanced view of religion, but because Greek mythology in particular is so fundamental to the understanding of Western art, literature and culture in general. Indeed, the more I learn about Greek mythology, the more I realize where so much of Christian beliefs come from.
Mika and I started reading Greek myths a few months ago out of the book Mini Greek Myths for Young Children, a small book I got at the British Museum years ago. We went on to learn more about Greek mythology by watching the History Chanel series Clash of the Gods (which I love). But recently we started reading D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, which I got on listia for a ridiculously low amount of credits. This particular edition, on hardcover, appears to be from 1962 but it’s in great condition. The person who “sold” it to me told me that he had read it to his children for many years. I’m sure I will do the same for mine.
I love the book. I love how it’s organized – both chronologically and by order of godly importance (it starts with Mother Earth and Uranus, continues with the Titans and then goes on to the Olympians, before focusing on the minor gods and other supernatural beings) -, how each chapter relates to the preceding one, and how thorough it is in recounting the mythology. I also appreciate that it uses pretty sophisticated language but it cleans up the stories for the children (Zeus’ lovers are portrayed as his wives, for example). The one problem I have with the book is that it does not cover the possible metaphorical significance of the myths. For example, according to my brother at least, when Cronus , the titan ruler of the universe, eats his children in order to avoid them overthrowing him, he represents “Time” eating the days away. I couldn’t find any support for such theory online, but most myths were invented so as to account for natural phenomena.
But, all in all, this seems a very minor fault of what is otherwise a great book.
I am now planning to get D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths, as Norse mythology is definitely one basis for English literature, and I know absolutely nothing about it.

The Man in the Brown Suit – Agatha Christie

I discovered Agatha Christie when I was 11 years old. My friend Veronica’s sister, SalomĂ©, was a fan and she loaned me her first Hercule Poirot book, The Mysterious Affair At Styles (which is, by the way, one of her best books). I fell in love with the book, Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie immediately. I had read some mysteries before, notably a children’s edition of Sherlock Holmes, Poe’s Auguste Dupin stories and several short detective stories from a book my parents had (my favorite being Frutelle’s The Problem of Cell 13 – it’s been thirty years and I haven’t forgotten this spellbinding story). I liked the genre already, but Agatha Christie was something else altogether. Over the years I have read hundreds of mysteries, but none can compare to the ones she wrote: well crafted, logical and organized, providing all the necessary clues for the reader to come up with the solution. From the age of 11 to 14, I bought and read all her books (and I think there are over 80 of them). They were sold in cheap paperback editions at corner newspaper stands, and my aunt Gladys was generous enough to indulge my obsession and get them for me.
I have to admit that I liked every single mystery that Agatha Christie wrote (I never read her romance novels), but I do have my favorites (among them Cards on the Table, The Seven Dials Mystery and Cat Among the Pigeons). My favorite of all, however, is probably The Man in the Brown Suit – which is as much a mystery as a romance.
It involves a young girl with a thirst for adventure who decides to go after a master criminal and in the midst of this falls head over hills in love over the prime suspect. It’s one of Agatha’s Christie’s earliest works, published in 1924, and it differs from the mostly formulaic mysteries she later wrote in several ways. For one, the book is an adventure as much as a story of detection. For another, the story is actually told mostly in first person by the female protagonist. I don’t know if Christie ever had a female narrator again.
As a fourteen year old, I have to admit that I loved the spunky and daring female protagonist and her manly and strong love interest. This book, along with They Came to Baghdad, helped me realize that young women could go on on their own and explore the world. I can’t say that I’ve had much adventure in my life (so far), but I did manage to travel quite a bit in my youth.
I just re-read the book after two and a half decades, and I was struck by the similarities between women back then and women now. Christie’s female characters are always strong, smart, independent and have free will. They also embrace their sexuality. We tend to think that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were chaste virgins with little thought of sex, but that’s not at all how Christie saw women – and that is refreshing.
I’m not a big reader of romance, but I think after this book I may look up one or two of her romance stories.

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