Posts Tagged ‘Read-Aloud’

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery ~ 1937. This edition: Bantam Books (Seal), 1989. Paperback. ISBN: 0-7704-2314-0. 217 pages.

My rating: 8/10. Jane Victoria Stuart is one of the more likeable young heroines in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s repertoire. Great gaps in believability here and there, but overall an engaging tale for romantic souls from youth (say 12-ish) to adult.

*****

Jane Victoria Stuart is eleven years old, and for eight of those years, the years she can remember, she has lived in a huge mansion in Toronto with her extremely wealthy, emotionally frigid grandmother and her delicately beautiful, weak-willed mother. As far as she knows her father is dead. He is never mentioned, except in snidely allusive references by her grandmother to “Victoria’s” tainted ancestry as demonstrated by her “low” tastes – a desire to cook and fraternize with the housekeeper in the warmly cozy kitchen, and a friendship with the young maid-of-all-work in the boarding house next door.

Grandmother makes no secret of her distaste for Jane Victoria – every creature comfort is provided but emotional needs go unfulfilled. Jane, as she secretly calls herself in defiance of her grandmother’s preferred Victoria, shares a deep love with her mother, but open demonstrativeness is impossible – even a glance or a motherly caress is deeply resented by bitter and jealous grandmother, who clings to her own daughter with fierce possessiveness.

The days go by uneventfully, and the future stretches forth relentlessly, until a chance taunt by a schoolmate reveals a secret which has been hidden from Jane by her grandmother and mother. Her father is not dead, but very much alive, and her mother is neither widowed or divorced but rather in a limbo of estrangement, unable to move either forward or back in the restricted social life engineered by the household matriarch.

Jane confronts her mother with the news and asks if it is true, and in one of her rare human moments Grandmother apologizes to Jane for keeping the secret for so long. But now that you know, consider him as dead, she orders Jane, and Jane solemnly and willingly agrees – this man who has abandoned her and made her mother so miserable is best forgotten.

Imagine Jane’s dismay when a letter comes soon after from Prince Edward Island, requesting Jane’s presence at her father’s summer residence over the summer holidays. With great trepidation Jane sets off into the unknown and greatly dreaded wider world.

Needless to say, everything works out, and happy endings abound. But before we get to them there are a number of little dramas which must be worked through, some more unbelievably than others.

A really nice heroine, practical and earnest and well-deserving of the good things which eventually come her way. Give this one to your pre-teen daughters, but don’t forget to read it yourself; mildly melodramatic and ultimately very satisfying.

Might make a good read-aloud, for ages maybe 8 and up. Marital troubles and divorce are central plot themes, as is emotional abuse by Jane’s grandmother, but these are necessary to the building of tension in the storyline. Rather reminiscent of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess in mood, I thought, including the improbable (but most satisfactory) way everything clicks into place in the end. No loose threads – all neat and tidy! Jane would approve.

Disney made a movie of this one a few years back, which I’ve not seen, but apparently it departs wildly from the original story and is not recommended by aficionados of the book.

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Here’s another Martin Armstrong poem I remembered when searching out the “Honey” poem. Marked in another one of our rather embarrasssingly large collection of vintage poetry anthologies is this gently humorous narrative poem. Some years ago we “collected” a number of Martin Armstrong poems and read them aloud to each other;  Miss Thompson was a favourite.

The time we spent together taking turns reading aloud is one of my favourite memories and one of the greatest joys of our homeschooling time. As everyone is now very much going their separate ways, read-aloud times are a thing of the past; I will need to wait for grandchildren now, I suppose… Hopefully some years in the future, but I find myself pleasantly anticipating a new audience of small rapt listeners, begging for “one more chapter!” Until then, I’m still adding to the story and poetry collections. But I think I may track down a family member or two and see if they would like to indulge in a nostalgic read-aloud session, just to humour their sentimental mom…

MISS THOMPSON GOES SHOPPING

Miss Thompson at Home

In her lone cottage on the downs,
With winds and blizzards and great crowns
Of shining cloud, with wheeling plover
And short grass sweet with the small white clover,
Miss Thompson lived, correct and meek,
A lonely spinster, and every week
On market-day she used to go
Into the little town below,
Tucked in the great downs’ hollow bowl
Like pebbles gathered in a shoal.

She goes a-Marketing

So, having washed her plates and cup
And banked the kitchen-fire up,
Miss Thompson slipped upstairs and dressed,
Put on her black (her second best),
The bonnet trimmed with rusty plush,
Peeped in the glass with simpering blush,
From camphor-smelling cupboard took
Her thicker jacket off the hook
Because the day might turn to cold.
Then, ready, slipped downstairs and rolled
The hearthrug back; then searched about,
Found her basket, ventured out,
Snecked the door and paused to lock it
And plunge the key in some deep pocket.
Then as she tripped demurely down
The steep descent, the little town
Spread wider till its sprawling street
Enclosed her and her footfalls beat
On hard stone pavement, and she felt
Those throbbing ecstasies that melt
Through heart and mind, as, happy, free,
Her small, prim personality
Merged into the seething strife
Of auction-marts and city life.

She visits the Boot-maker.

Serenely down the busy stream
Miss Thompson floated in a dream.
Now, hovering bee-like, she would stop
Entranced before some tempting shop,
Getting in people’s way and prying
At things she never thought of buying:
Now wafted on without an aim,
Until in course of time she came
To Watson’s bootshop. Long she pries
At boots and shoes of every size —
Brown football-boots with bar and stud
For boys that scuffle in the mud,
And dancing-pumps with pointed toes
Glossy as jet, and dull black bows;
Slim ladies’ shoes with two-inch heel
And sprinkled beads of gold and steel —
‘How anyone can wear such things!’
On either side the doorway springs
(As in a tropic jungle loom
Masses of strange thick-petalled bloom
And fruits mis-shapen) fold on fold
A growth of sand-shoes rubber-soled,
Clambering the door-posts, branching, spawning
Their barbarous bunches like an awning
Over the windows and the doors.
But, framed among the other stores,
Something has caught Miss Thompson’s eye
(O worldliness! O vanity!),
A pair of slippers — scarlet plush.
Miss Thompson feels a conscious blush
Suffuse her face, as though her thought
Had ventured further than it ought.
But O that colour’s rapturous singing
And the answer in her lone heart ringing!
She turns (O Guardian Angels, stop her
From doing anything improper!)
She turns; and see, she stoops and bungles
In through the sand-shoes’ hanging jungles,
Away from light and common sense,
Into the shop dim-lit and dense
With smells of polish and tanned hide.

Mrs. Watson

Soon from a dark recess inside
Fat Mrs. Watson comes slip-slop
To mind the business of the shop.
She walks flat-footed with a roll —
A serviceable, homely soul,
With kindly, ugly face like dough,
Hair dull and colourless as tow.
A huge Scotch pebble fills the space
Between her bosom and her face.
One sees her making beds all day.
Miss Thompson lets her say her say:
‘So chilly for the time of year.
It’s ages since we saw you here.’
Then, heart a-flutter, speech precise,
Describes the shoes and asks the price.
‘Them, Miss? Ah, them is six-and-nine.’
Miss Thompson shudders down the spine
(Dream of impossible romance).
She eyes them with a wistful glance,
Torn between good and evil. Yes,
Wrestles with a Temptation;

For half-a-minute and no less
Miss Thompson strives with seven devils,
Then, soaring over earthly levels

And is Saved

Turns from the shoes with lingering touch —
‘Ah, six-and-nine is far too much.
Sorry to trouble you. Good day!’

She visits the Fish-monger

A little further down the way
Stands Miles’s fish-shop, whence is shed
So strong a smell of fishes dead
That people of a subtler sense
Hold their breath and hurry thence.
Miss Thompson hovers there and gazes:
Her housewife’s knowing eye appraises
Salt and fresh, severely cons
Kippers bright as tarnished bronze:
Great cods disposed upon the sill,
Chilly and wet, with gaping gill,
Flat head, glazed eye, and mute, uncouth,
Shapeless, wan, old-woman’s mouth.
Next a row of soles and plaice
With querulous and twisted face,
And red-eyed bloaters, golden-grey;
Smoked haddocks ranked in neat array;
A group of smelts that take the light
Like slips of rainbow, pearly bright;
Silver trout with rosy spots,
And coral shrimps with keen black dots
For eyes, and hard and jointed sheath
And crisp tails curving underneath.
But there upon the sanded floor,
More wonderful in all that store
Than anything on slab or shelf,
Stood Miles, the fishmonger, himself.

Mr. Miles

Four-square he stood and filled the place.
His huge hands and his jolly face
Were red. He had a mouth to quaff
Pint after pint: a sounding laugh,
But wheezy at the end, and oft
His eyes bulged outwards and he coughed.
Aproned he stood from chin to toe.
The apron’s vertical long flow
Warped grandly outwards to display
His hale, round belly hung midway,
Whose apex was securely bound
With apron-strings wrapped round and round.
Outside, Miss Thompson, small and staid,
Felt, as she always felt, afraid
Of this huge man who laughed so loud
And drew the notice of the crowd.
Awhile she paused in timid thought,
Then promptly hurried in and bought
‘Two kippers, please. Yes, lovely weather.’
‘Two kippers? Sixpence altogether:’
And in her basket laid the pair
Wrapped face to face in newspaper.

Relapses into Temptation

Then on she went, as one half blind,
For things were stirring in her mind;
Then turned about with fixed intent
And, heading for the bootshop, went
And Falls.
Straight in and bought the scarlet slippers
And popped them in beside the kippers.

She visits the Chemist

So much for that. From there she tacked,
Still flushed by this decisive act,
Westward, and came without a stop
To Mr. Wren the chemist’s shop,
And stood awhile outside to see
The tall, big-bellied bottles three —
Red, blue, and emerald, richly bright
Each with its burning core of light.
The bell chimed as she pushed the door.
Spotless the oilcloth on the floor,
Limpid as water each glass case,
Each thing precisely in its place.
Rows of small drawers, black-lettered each
With curious words of foreign speech,
Ranked high above the other ware.
The old strange fragrance filled the air,
A fragrance like the garden pink,
But tinged with vague medicinal stink
Of camphor, soap, new sponges, blent
With chloroform and violet scent.

Mr. Wren.

And Wren the chemist, tall and spare,
Stood gaunt behind his counter there.
Quiet and very wise he seemed,
With skull-like face, bald head that gleamed;
Through spectacles his eyes looked kind.
He wore a pencil tucked behind
His ear. And never he mistakes
The wildest signs the doctor makes
Prescribing drugs. Brown paper, string,
He will not use for any thing,
But all in neat white parcels packs
And sticks them up with sealing-wax.
Miss Thompson bowed and blushed, and then
Undoubting bought of Mr. Wren,
Being free from modern scepticism,
A bottle for her rheumatism;
Also some peppermints to take
In case of wind; an oval cake
Of scented soap; a penny square
Of pungent naphthaline to scare
The moth. And after Wren had wrapped
And sealed the lot, Miss Thompson clapped
Them in beside the fish and shoes;
‘Good day,’ she says, and off she goes.
Is Led away to the Pleasure of the Town,
Beelike Miss Thompson, whither next?
Outside, you pause awhile, perplext,
Your bearings lost. Then all comes back
Such as Groceries and Millinery,
And round she wheels, hot on the track
Of Giles the grocer, and from there
To Emilie the milliner,
There to be tempted by the sight
Of hats and blouses fiercely bright.
(O guard Miss Thompson, Powers that Be,
From Crudeness and Vulgarity.)

And other Allurements

Still on from shop to shop she goes
With sharp bird’s-eye, enquiring nose,
Prying and peering, entering some,
Oblivious of the thought of home.
The town brimmed up with deep-blue haze,
But still she stayed to flit and gaze,
Her eyes ablur with rapturous sights,
Her small soul full of small delights,
Empty her purse, her basket filled.

But at length is Convinced of Indiscretion
The traffic in the town was stilled.
The clock struck six. Men thronged the inns.
Dear, dear, she should be home long since.

And Returns Home

Then as she climbed the misty downs
The lamps were lighted in the town’s
Small streets. She saw them star by star
Multiplying from afar;
Till, mapped beneath her, she could trace
Each street, and the wide square market-place
Sunk deeper and deeper as she went
Higher up the steep ascent.
And all that soul-uplifting stir
Step by step fell back from her,
The glory gone, the blossoming
Shrivelled, and she, a small, frail thing,
Carrying her laden basket. Till
Darkness and silence of the hill
Received her in their restful care
And stars came dropping through the air.

But loudly, sweetly sang the slippers
In the basket with the kippers;
And loud and sweet the answering thrills
From her lone heart on the hills.

Martin Armstrong, 1921

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The Rescuers by Margery Sharp ~ 1959. Illustrations by Garth Williams. This edition: New York Review of Books, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-59017-460-9. 149 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10 for the story, 10/10 for the illustrations.

This is the first story in what eventually became a series of nine about the mice of the Prisoners’ Aid Society, and in particular the aristocratic white mouse Miss Bianca, and her admirer and co-adventurer, Bernard.

Everyone knows that the mice are the prisoner’s friends – sharing his dry bread crumbs even when they are not hungry, allowing themselves to be taught all manner of foolish tricks, such as no self-respecting mouse would otherwise contemplate, in order to cheer his lonely hours; what is less well-known is how spendidly they are organized. Not a prison in any land but has its own national branch of that wonderful, world-wide system…

In the un-specified (and purely imaginative) country these particular mice live in,

…(a country) barely civilized, a country of great gloomy mountains, enormous deserts, rivers like strangled seas…

… there exists the greatest, the gloomiest, prison imaginable: The Black Castle.

It reared up, the Black Castle, from a cliff above the angriest river of all. Its dungeons were cut in the cliff itself – windowless. Even the bravest mouse, assigned to the Black Castle, trembled before its great, cruel, iron-fanged gate.

And inside the Black Castle, in one of the windowless dungeons, is a prisoner that the Prisoners’ Aid Society has taken a special interest in.

“It’s rather an unusual case,” said Madam Chairwoman blandly. “The prisoner is a poet. You will all, I know, cast your minds back to the many poets who have written favorably of our race – Her feet beneath her petticoats, like little mice stole in and out – Suckling, the Englishman – what a charming compliment! Thus do not poets deserve especially well of us?”

“If he’s a poet, why’s he in jail?” demanded a suspicious voice.

Madam Chairwoman shrugged velvet shoulders.

“Perhaps he writes free verse,” she suggested cunningly.

A stir of approval answered her. Mice are all for people being free, so they too can be freed from their eternal task of cheering prisoners – so they can stay snug at home, nibbling the family cheese, instead of sleeping out in damp straw on a diet of stale bread.

“I see you follow me,” said Madam Chairwoman. “It is a special case. Therefore we will rescue him. I should tell you that the prisoner is a Norwegian. – Don’t ask me how he got here, really no one can answer for a poet! But obviously the first thing to do is to get in touch with a compatriot, and summon him here, so that he may communicate with the prisoner in their common tongue.”

Now, getting to Norway is a bit of a challenge, but the mice have a solution. They decide to call on the famous Miss Bianca, the storied white mouse who is the pamperd pet of the Ambassador’s son. Miss Bianca lives in a Porcelain Pagoda; she feeds on cream cheese from a silver dish; she is elegant and extremely beautiful and far, far removed from common mouse-dom. She also travels by Diplomatic Bag whenever the Ambassador and his family move – abd they have just been transferred to Norway. Perfect!

A pantry mouse in the Embassy, one young Bernard, is assigned the task of contacting Miss Bianca and enlisting her aid in the cause. She is to find “the bravest mouse in Norway”, and send him back to the Prisoners’ Aid Society so he may be briefed on the rescue mission.

Bernard successfully convinces Miss Bianca to assist, and then the real action starts. By a combination of careful planning, coincidence and sheer luck, the Norwegian sea-mouse Nils, Bernard and Miss Bianca venture forth to bring solace and freedom to the Norwegian poet.

The illustrations by Garth Williams are absolutely perfect. Here is one of my favourites, of the journey to the Black Castle. Look carefully at the expressions on the horses’ faces, the fetters on the skeleton. Brrr! Danger lurks!

And here is Mamelouk, the Head Jailer’s wicked black half-Persian cat, whose favourite pasttime is spitting at the prisoners through the bars, and of course catching and tormenting any mouse who ventures into his dark domain.

Miss Bianca proves herself more than a match for Mamelouk, utilizing her special bravado and charm. Needless to say, the mission is successfully accomplished, though not without setbacks.

A light, rather silly (in the best possible way), rather enjoyable story.

Miss Bianca is a very “feminine” character, in the most awfully stereotyped way possible, but there are enough little asides by the author that we can see that this is not a reccomendation for behaviour to be copied but rather a portrait of a personality who uses the resources at hand (her charm, her beauty, her effect on others) to get things done.

Bernard is typical yeoman stock, earnest striving and quiet bravery in the face of adversity. He is attracted to Miss Bianca as dull and dusty moth to blazing flame, but quietly accepts that their places in the world are too far apart to ever allow him the audacity to woo her. Or possibly not…

Nils galumphs through the story in his sea boots, “Up the Norwegians!” his Viking cry. A reluctant (or, more appropriately, unwitting) hero, who has had his adventure thrust upon him, Nils typifies dauntless.

Read-Alone: I’m thinking 8 and up. Margery Sharp has written a children’s tale with completely “adult” language and references; a competent young reader will find this challenging but rewarding. Be prepared to clarify occasionally, if your reader is of an inquiring mind. (Hint: Better bone up on Lloyd’s Register of Shipping.)

Read-Aloud: I think this would be a very good read-aloud. Ages 6 and up. Reasonably fast-paced. The first few chapters set the scene and may be a bit slow going, and the dialogue will require careful reading; you’ll need to pay attention while performing this one – no easy ride for the reader! – but I think it could be a lot of fun.

Definitely worth a look. If this is a hit, there are eight more stories in the series. I have previously reviewed the second title here:    Miss Bianca

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miss bianca margery sharp vMiss Bianca by Margery Sharp ~ 1962. Original title: Miss Bianca: A Fantasy. This edition: Fontana 1977. Paperback. Grand illustrations by Garth Williams. ISBN: 0-00-67-1235-5. 124 pages.

My rating: 7/10. The excellent illustrations raised it a few points.

I have a lot of good things to say about Margery Sharp, and her adult novels are among my most treasured books, but I must admit I have never previously read her once-popular children’s series about the little white mouse, Miss Bianca. The first two stories in the series were the inspiration behind the well-known Disney animated film The Rescuers (voiced, for those of you interested in such trivia, by Eva Gabor in the role of Miss Bianca and Bob Newhart as her partner Bernard) and its sequel. The paperback edition of Miss Bianca I have before me is the movie tie-in edition, with a cover still from the movie and this telling note on the title page:

Featuring characters from the Disney film suggested by the books by Margery Sharp, The Rescuers and Miss Bianca, published by William Collins & Co Ltd.

Don’t you just love that “suggested by” comment? So true! For the record, I am not a fan of the Disney bowdlerizations of otherwise excellent books. Several generations of children have now grown up with the Disney imagery of classic stories such as The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, and, heaven help us – The Hunchback of Notre Dame! – firmly in their heads versus the authors’ intended word-pictures.

So my beloved Margery Sharp is among the ranks of Disney’s “suggested” inspirations! I hope she got a generous settlement! It has just occurred to me that many of their take-off-of-classic stories authors were already dead at the time of the movie-making; Margery Sharp was very much alive in 1977, though I remember reading a quotation by her about not really being too interested in what happened during filming of her works (several of her adult novels were made into popular films); that her job was to write and that filmmakers were fine on their own without her input.

Back to the book at hand. A little way in I realized that Miss Bianca has a back story; so many references to what has “just happened” made me scratch my head until I realized that this is the *second* story in the series. The Rescuers is the first. I am thinking I need to get my hands on that one to fill in the gaps, and luckily that shouldn’t be a problem. New York  Review Books has just re-issued The Rescuers in hardcover, after its being out-of-print for ten years; I have several of their other beautifully rendered re-issues and I highly recommend them. Here’s the link: http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/childrens/the-rescuers/

So – Miss Bianca, Chairwoman of the Prisoners’ Aid Society (a charitable mousey organization dedicated to the comfort of incarcerated humans), has a new project to suggest. The last daring adventure, the rescue of a Norwegian poet from the infamous Black Castle (pause for ominous music) was obviously a great ego boost to the mice, and they are consequently quite boisterous and full of themselves. Miss Bianca, waiting for the Society’s latest meeting to come to order, muses that

“…their common adventure had given mice an unfortunate taste for flamboyance in welfare work. Not one, now, thought anything of sitting up to beg a prisoner’s crumb – in the long run one of the most useful acts a mouse can perform. Crumb-begging, like waltzing in circles (even with a jailer outside the door), was regarded as mere National Service stuff, barely worth reporting on one’s return from the regulation three weeks’ duty…”

The new mission is the rescue of a little girl who is being held in an abusive situation by the wicked Grand Duchess in the magnificent but icy-cold Diamond Palace. Miss Bianca appeals to the Ladies Guild of the Society to assist her in the daring rescue, and of course things do not go as planned. Miss Bianca is left behind in the general rout of the rest of the mice when the Duchess’ ladies-in-waiting, far from being tender creatures terrified of mice, turn out to be much more “hardened” than planned for!

This is a playful book; Margery Sharp indulged herself with a full flow of flowery and elaborate language, rather a challenge for young readers (but not necessarily a drawback), and the references are aimed rather at their elders over the heads of the child-audience; perhaps this was a book meant to be read aloud, with a nod to the parent as well as the child?

The villains in this little saga are properly villainous; the Duchess’ black-hearted Major-Domo, Mandrake, has committed “…a very wicked crime, of which only the Duchess now had evidence…” and he is her willing (though cringingly obsequious) partner in crime. Even her two unkempt carriage horses “…had criminal records; each having once kicked a man to death…” And so on.

If the story has a flaw (and it does have a few, being a slight work in every sense of the word) it is that the parody and melodrama are a bit too “over the top” for perfect comfort. The wee prisoner, the aptly named Patience,  is the latest in a long line of small children the Duchess has enslaved and apparently killed (!) –  though most children will shiver deliciously at the peril their two heroines find themselves in, my motherly brain says “Killed! Was that really necessary, dear author?!” And I don’t think we ever do get the full story on how the Duchess obtained Patience in the first place.

Ah, well. To sum up: a diverting little parody of an adventure story. I think it should definitely follow The Rescuers to make more sense to the reader; it has a very sequel-ish feel to it, though it could stand alone if need be. Quite nicely written in a very flamboyant voice (to use Miss Bianca’s own word); definitely not dumbed down to a younger audience vocabulary or style-wise.

This book #2 in a series, the first four of which are illustrated by the incomparable Garth Williams. I believe all except the newly re-released The Rescuers (New York Review Books, 2011) are out-of-print. Some are very easy to find second-hand, but the more obscure later titles may require some serious online sleuthing.

  • The Rescuers (1959)
  • Miss Bianca (1962)
  • The Turret (1963)
  • Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines (1966)
  • Miss Bianca in the Orient (1970)
  • Miss Bianca in the Antarctic (1971)
  • Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid (1972)
  • Bernard the Brave (1977)
  • Bernard into Battle (1978)

Read-Aloud: I think so. Ages 6 and up, perhaps? The prisoner Patience is eight; much is made of her sad life and deceased predecessors and bleeding fingers, but the tone is optimistic – this is, after all, why the child very much needs a heroic rescue! Neatly tied up happy ending, with the mice going off to their next adventure.

Read-Alone: Hmmm. Maybe 8 and up? Or a very strong younger reader. Definitely can be appreciated by an older readership (including adults); Margery Sharp was an accomplished social satirist and this story is full of her wry observations, though they often escalate into full-blown parody much more so than in her adult novels.

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Stig of the dump clive kingStig of the Dump by Clive King ~ 1963. This edition: Puffin, 1993. Softcover. Illustrations throughout by Edward Ardizzone. Afterword by Kaye Webb. ISBN: 0-14-036450-1. 159 pages.

My rating: 10/10.

Probably the best-known of British author Clive King’s respectable list of interesting and well-written children’s books, this great little story is still in print forty years after its first publication.

A happy little story, touched with snippets of history, but mostly just a fun read. We willingly suspend our disbelief and embrace the “what if” world Clive King has created for Barney. Make sure you look for a copy with the Ardizzone pen-and-ink illustrations; these add greatly to the enjoyment of this story.

Young Barney and slightly older sister Lou are visiting their grandparents in the English countryside. Barney, exploring, becomes fascinated by an old chalk quarry used by the local inhabitants as a rubbish tip for unwanted items. While venturing too close to the edge, the crumbly chalk cliff gives way, tumbling Barney down into the midst of a concealed shelter built out of branches, rusty sheet iron and pieces of old carpet. He has found the den of the mysterious Stig, a “cave man” unexpectedly living in 20th Century Devon. Barney and Stig hit it off immediately, and various adventures ensue. Eventually Lou is drawn into the partnership, and the story culminates with a Midsummer Night time-travel back to Stig’s time.

Read-Aloud: Yes! A wonderful read-aloud. King’s writing flows beautifully, making life easy for the narrator. The 9 chapters are fairly long but are nicely episodic so each session ends off neatly while keeping the listener wanting more. Interest level probably 5-6 to 10-11, maybe even older, depending on the individual child(ren).

Read-Alone: Great early chapter book for developing and fluent readers 6-ish/7-ish and up. The author wrote this book to be read by his 8-year-old son, so it is fairly simply written, though not at all “dumbed-down”.

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