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Monday, April 23, 2012

A couple of slightly off-beat books

By now, the 7 year old has some genres (non-fiction, realistic fiction, historical fiction, fairy tale fantasy, modern fantasy, folktales, mythology) she prefers but is always open to explore others. And some books don't necessarily fall into one genre or another, may span a few, and may just remain difficult to label. Which is fine...

Of course, she doesn't really care about the genres and probably has just a generic notion about fiction/non-fiction, it is just my adult mind that has extracted these genre labels from the books she has enjoyed reading so far.

Anyway, a few random picks from the library impressed the 7 yo enough for their own reasons that I wanted to jot down here. They are "off-beat" in the sense that they are not the typical picture books or chapter books she has been exposed to, not the classics either; and not necessarily full-blown quirky, but the kind of books I would not have thought of adding to her Reading List, if we had one.

Seven Lady Godivas
The true facts concerning history's barest family
by Dr.Seuss

If the cover image did not catch the 7 yo's attention I would have been surprised. There was not just one but seven Lady Godivas, all of them bare-bodied because, "they were simply themselves and chose not to disguise it."

Originally published in 1939, this is the first book for adults by Dr.Seuss and apparently it did not sell then, but is now considered a collector's item. Dr. Seuss had severe apprehensions about its publication and considered it his "greatest failure".

The book presents a possible story behind seven well-known horse sayings like, "Don't ever look a gift horse in the mouth!" and "Don't put the cart before the horse." and so on, each Horse Truth discovered by a Godiva sister whose mission in life it was to find one before wedding and settling down. And, they chose to do it with not a stitch of clothing on.

Other than the Seussian drawings of naked women, I found nothing terribly objectionable to make me agonize over letting the 7 yo girl read it. Some of the references about the Peeping brothers (Peeping Tom) and the horse sayings themselves are probably out of the range of her current depth of understanding, but, at its face value, the book is funny and imaginative. I am glad Ana loved reading it a few times and even sharing the parts she found most entertaining.

Country Mouse Cottage 
Town Mouse House
How we lived one hundred years ago
by Nigel Brooks & Abigail Horner

Set in the early 1900s, the two books present aspects of day-to-day life - one in the country and one in town.

"Welcome. I am Edward Country Mouse. I'd like to show you around our house" starts this charming little book. We find out Edward lives with his Ma and Pa, and his sister Rose, his twin brothers Fred & Barnaby in a cottage on their farm. It is mid-summer in the year 1900. Each of the family member has chores that keep them busy from dawn till dusk.

Ana instantly loved the Country Mouse Cottage - the clothes and shoes and alarm clock (similar to the one she has now) all caught her attention right on the cover.

The water pump was my favorite page to read to her. I had one like that when I was about Ana's age and had to pump water for all our needs - washing, bathing, cooking, even flushing the toilet! I had a lot of fun reminiscing and telling Ana about how different my life was when I was her age, and this book opened that door for us.

The watercolor illustrations are delicate and ethereal yet solid and earthy at the same time - a rare combination. I simply loved them. The same reason I still love Beatrix Potter's elegant watercolors - they just transport me to another world, a world of such beauty and simplicity that I want to escape into it.

There is even a page dedicated to their Village School - a common classroom in which big ones, little ones and the in-betweens all gather for some learning. When Edward shares the school rules and says "... our bottoms might be caned" if we don't obey, it certainly caught Ana's attention about the sort of disciplinary actions prevalent in those days. As a matter of fact, I remember the knuckle-beatings and spanking widely practised in the Lower Elementary school I went to. "I am so lucky they don't do that in my school, Mama, I would not like that at all, it would hurt so much!"

Needless to say, Ana was obsessed with Rose's and her mom's clothes in all the pages. She did express concern over Pa's Clay Pipe as she is just becoming aware of the smoking habit that she started noticing in public.

The true hardships of country life are not dealt with in detail in Country Mouse Cottage; an idyllic picture with just enough jolt of reality to make it romantic for the young reader makes this a wonderful reading experience.

Town Mouse House is much similar in concept, set in an upper class house in a generic town in 1900. Augustus Town Mouse shows us around and we learn about terraced houses with butlers and governesses and cooks and house maids.

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