We took a long car trip this month, so we listened to more audio books than usual. Below are the longer (100+ pages) books we either read aloud as a family, listened to on audio, or that one or more of the kids and I read so we could discuss it together.
Immediately upon finishing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last month, we started reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevatorfor our evening read aloud. While it’s just as easy to read aloud as the first book and also has great illustrations, the story itself was not as wonderful. It’s fine, just not fantastic. The grandparents feature heavily and aren’t wise or interesting at all–they are just crotchety and selfish and apparently incapable of performing simple mental mathematics. The kids kept asking, “Wait, are the grandparents adults?!” I think my conclusion is that the first book made a great family read aloud, but I could have just let the kids read the sequel on their own.
Our latest audiobook was the unabridged 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea read by Frederick Davidson. The book is like a deep sea version of The Swiss Family Robinson, in that it’s a story held together by an immense data dump of information about the natural world. That’s not all bad–we did learn a lot and basically enjoyed the book, but it was pretty long and not destined to be one of our favorites. I feel like the kids would have liked it better had they been reading it on their own rather than listening to it.
We will be learning about Amy Carmichael during the first couple of weeks of school (which starts August 3 for us!) so Hannah and I pre-read The Hidden Jewel, a biography of sorts that mixed some fiction in with real events from Carmichael’s life in India. I didn’t try to read this one aloud because we’ve had mixed results from this series, but I thought it was fine from a personal reading perspective. The pictures, as with all of the books in this series of missionary biographies, are terrible. But the content is accessible and engaging and it’s a good introduction to Carmichael’s work, putting her mission to help children in context of the prevailing customs in that part of India at the time. I do think these authors do a good job of pointing out the ways that the missionaries they profile loved the people and cultures they served–dressing, acting, and speaking like their adopted cultures–while challenging the negative and dark aspects of that culture (in this case, selling small children into temple prostitution–don’t worry, this is glossed in the book–treating girls like chattel, etc). I like how this approach reinforces to kids that Christianity is not a western religion, and that all cultures, including our own, have good points as well as areas that need to be redeemed.
We listened to N. D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards on audio while on our long car trip, and thought it was all right. I’m normally a huge fan of worlds-within-worlds type fantasy fiction, but somehow this one felt like it was trying a little too hard. The author’s style is a bit flowery (I just remembered that I read one of his non-fiction books and used the phrases “trying too hard” and “flowery” for that too). I’m not sure if we will get into the rest of the series. The premise is good, but none of us were overwhelmed by the story itself.
As we are seriously devoted E. Nesbit groupies around here, we were of course predisposed to be fond of The Magic City as a family read-aloud. If you can find a version with the original illustrations go for that–it’s worth it. In this story, two children who love to build cities and worlds actually find themselves transported into those cities and tasked with quests and adventures. Even as an adult I have to confess that I read this book and LONGED to get to explore the various dolls houses and fairy houses and worlds I played with as a kid. My kids play this way too, so we were pretty into the setting. Plus you get Nesbit’s charming writing and pesky villains and it all comes right in the end. Most satisfactory!
Although we try to redeem car time by listening to audio books, I do really prefer to read the books out loud myself most of the time. This is one exception: The Trumpet of the Swan read by the author is really a gem. I love this story, and the kids did too, and I thought hearing the author’s voice (he has an accent that lends a sort of dry humor to lots of parts) was a really great way of experiencing the book. The audio book is also punctuated with trumpet music of the tunes described in the story, and that gives a fantastic effect. We all really enjoyed this and would highly recommend it.
This month I also reviewed the Wildwood trilogy and the Harry Potter series in separate posts, with notes about reading those to or with your kids.
What was your favorite read aloud from July?
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