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Recently I finished reading three classic children’s novels to H.  We’ve been on a roll, reading quite a bit every night.  I don’t know if there’s much point to a non-literature guy pretending to write reviews of classic children’s literature, but I did so on Amazon.  Of course, you’ll learn more about me than you will about these books.

Pippi Longstocking 
by Astrid Lindgren

Excellent bedtime reading, December 29, 2010 

My 4-year-old son and I had lots of fun with this. Pippi is outrageous, fun-loving, irreverent, and good-hearted–just like many children, only more so. The book is a quick and not too challenging read, mainly because it addresses themes and ways of thinking that are distinctly childish. The main theme, repeated throughout, is how Pippi enjoys herself in spite of (even oblivious to) physical resistance or social convention, setting up absurd situations that obviously appeal to children (and lots of adults, too).

It’s mainly a storybook. After the first chapter, it wouldn’t matter much what order you read the stories in, although one point of continuity is that the children get to know Pippi better, as do the townspeople.

Although it’s an excellent book and well deserves its status as a classic, it really wasn’t among my top favorites. This is mainly because Pippi and her antics more or less represent a gimmick, and the gimmick, though well executed, does get old after a while (at least, for this adult). 

Old Yeller
by Fred Gipson

One of the standard-bearers of children’s literature, December 29, 2010           

Old Yeller is simply one of the best children’s novels there is. It really says something about a book if it can be thoroughly enjoyed by a 4-year-old boy, who probably identifies more with Arliss than Travis, as well his middle-aged Papa.

The language and detail of the book marks it as authentic; one gets the sense that the book was written as an autobiography, though it wasn’t. Like the Little House books–although, arguably, better in this regard–it immerses the young reader in a time and place, impressing upon one just how important the details of place were when people lived “close to the land.”

The lovely thing about this book is that it wonderfully develops the relationship between the boys and their dog, who turns out to be a canine hero. While this might sound banal or silly, the book is really anything but; it is great literature and seems perfectly realistic. It captures some of the best aspects of boyhood (and the realities of frontier life).

This is the sort of book that a zillion would-be “literary” entries lamely attempt to imitate. It is an enjoyable, fulfilling experience instead of a dry intellectual exercise.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl

A favorite of kids, December 29, 2010

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory deserves its status as a classic. Of three classics I recently read to my 4-year-old, all of which he liked, he loved this one the best. (The others were Pippi Longstocking and Old Yeller.) I give the book five stars in honor of his opinion, but I would probably give it four stars myself.

Wonka’s chocolate factory, like many creatures of Dahl’s imagination, is an impossible place, and it is probably only more intriguing and beloved by children for that reason. Wonka himself is zany and irrepressible, like many a kid who probably shouldn’t be diagnosed ADD. Dahl’s characters, with the sole exceptions of Charlie and his parents, are caricatures, something shown well by Quentin Blake’s weird illustrations. (But frankly, I didn’t care for the illustrations in this edition.)

Dahl’s style has a sort of wild, unruly exuberance, together with dollops of nonsense, that appeals to kids, especially little boys like mine. Maybe I’m too much of a grown-up now, but it doesn’t especially appeal to me, but I very much appreciate how it taps into the spirit of childhood. Besides, it was pretty fun to read it to my little boy, who clearly was enjoying himself.