Kid Lit Mini Reviews: Charlotte's Web, The Emerald City of Oz and The Penderwicks

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Charlotte’s Web
by E.B. White

Bittersweet and incredibly powerful, this tale of friendship on a farm is a classic for a reason. The first time I read this book I was so young and though I loved it, I’m sure I didn’t catch all the wisdom, re-reading it as an adult is a different experience.

A young girl named Fern saves the runt of a litter of pigs from death. She names him Wilber and he forms an unlikely bond with a spider named Charlotte. I adore their sweet relationship and all of the eccentric animals who populate the story.

BOTTOM LINE: An absolute must in every child’s library. Read it to your kids or nieces and nephews, then re-read it for you. It is a book for children, but it doesn’t shy away from the reality of the world.

The Emerald City of Oz
by L. Frank Baum

Oz is under attack. The Nome King Roquat the Red wants his magic belt, which was taken by Dorothy and is now with Ozma in the Emerald City. He rallies all of the evil entities in the kingdom to join his quest to conquer Oz.

It reminded me a bit of the end of The Hobbit with the Battle of the Five Armies, but without the battle. The Phanfasms (a ghostly people led by The First and Foremost), Whimsies (stupid people), and the Growleywogs (a strong race) join together, but none of them truly have loyalty to the others.

"All of these allies are dangerous people, and they may demand more than you have promised them. It might have been better to have conquered Oz without any outside assistance."

At the same time, Dorothy moves permanently to Oz and bring her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em along with her because they’ve lost their farm in Kansas. For the first time they are able to see all the characters she’s told them so much about and they finally believe her stories.

They travel through the kingdom meeting half a dozen interesting groups. The Cuttenclips are a community made up of paper dolls; even a sneeze is dangerous to them. Then there is a group made up of pastry people in Bunbury. In an Alice in Wonderland style section Dorothy is shrunk to the size of a rabbit to visit the rabbits in Bunnybury. The world of Utensia is made up of utensils. There’s a spoon brigade and a limit opportunity for fantastic puns!

"I'm a lawyer," said the corkscrew, proudly. "I am accustomed to appear at the bar."
"But you're crooked," retorted the King, "and that debars you.

BOTTOM LINE: I wish I’d read this when I was little. How wonderful to be able to visit all of those creative worlds with innocent eyes. I even had fun reading them as an adult!

“People often do a good deed without hope of reward, but for an evil deed they always demand payment.”

"It's the thing we don't expect, Billina that usually happens."

**From the way the book ended it felt like the final book in the series. I wonder if Baum planned on stopping the series here but then had to write future books for some reason, maybe financial?

The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall

Four sisters and their father rent a summer home for their vacation. Along with their dog Hound, the Penderwick family settles into Arundel, a big drafty house in rural Massachusetts.

The four girls have vastly different temperaments. Rosalind is the eldest at 12 and she’s responsible and sweet, trying to make up for the loss of their mother a few years before. Skye, 11, is a loud-mouthed, contentious tomboy. Jane, at only 10, has decided she is an author and lets her romantic imagination get the better of her occasionally. Battie is the youngest, a four-year-old who never leaves the house without a pair of wings on her back.

Their landlady is a snobby woman named Mrs. Tifton. The girls become fast friends with her son Jeffrey. He wants to become a musician, much to the chagrin of his mother, who has planned out a life in the military for him.
The girls run into one problem after another and the episodic style of the book works well. There’s a great supporting cast of characters including their father, who randomly spouts advice in Latin and Churchy, the friendly housekeeper who works for Mrs. Tifton.

BOTTOM LINE: A sweet coming-of-age story featuring sisters, one I would recommend for kids around 8 to 12 years old. It would also be a particularly good one to enjoy during summer vacation.


Bybee said...

I love Charlotte's Web, and E.B. White's lists of things like what goes into Wilbur's slop, the types of cars that show up at the Zuckerman farm, and Templeton's recitation of what he ate at the fair. I love all the funny little asides too, like "milk of rodent kindness" and "...said Charlotte, who had never used soap flakes (or was it laundry detergent?) in her life."

Jeanne said...

Animals are important in all of these books; they're characters in the first two, and there are pet bunnies in The Penderwicks.

Anonymous said...

Happy Children's Book Day!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I'm not sure I'm familiar with The Penderwicks but I have fond memories of my second grade teacher reading us Charlotte's Web in class. I should probably do a re-read. My blogging friend Paxton (he's not a book blogger but has done a few of the King readalongs) recently read ALL of the Wizard of Oz books as a feature on his blog. I had no idea there were so many!!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Bybee - His lists are so fantastic! Now that you mentioned them I can hear them being rattled off in my head.

Jeanne - You're right! In addition to the pet bunnies in Penderwicks there is also their wonderful pet Hound and a bull that they have to run away from. It's interesting that animals are so important in children's lit.

Care - Oh my gosh, I didn't even realize that! I'm so glad you said something. I guess that was great timing on posting these reviews!

Trish - There are so many Oz books! I've been reading one or two for the past couple years and I still have a ton left to read.

Nikki Steele @ said...

Oooh I should definitely go out and re-read Charlotte's Web. It was one of my favorites when I was younger--such a sweet, heart-warming story. I'll probably bawl like a baby reading it.

We actually did some research on Oz recently and you're exactly right -- he tried to stop the series but all the kids of the "world" vetoed him and kept bugging the author until he wrote another book. (Obviously paraphrased in my own words)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nikki - That's crazy! It's almost exactly like SHerlock Holmes. It's interesting that once an author creates a character it's almost like the public owns it and gets to decide its fate. That's got to be a strange feeling for an author.