Opening door to fantastical worlds


  • Education
  • Sunday, 20 Jul 2003

Compiled by HARIATI AZIZAN and ELIZABETH TAI

THE wardrobe in a mansion smack in the middle of the English countryside, the wishing chair that can fly and Platform 93/4 at King’s Cross station – books can open doors to fantastical worlds beyond any child’s imagination. 

At the age of six or seven, reading becomes more interesting for children as they start developing their likes and dislikes. Parents should introduce them to contemporary storybooks in addition to children’s classics. 

POT AND POTTER: The recent launch of the fifth Harry Potter book at MPH was a magical affair.

Each child is different in his reading ability and interest, and this should be considered when selecting reading materials. The general age groupings for books are not set in stone. As children develop, a book recommended for an 11-year-old can bring just as much pleasure to some seven-year-olds. 

A few 12-year-olds are known to read literary heavyweights such as Tolstoy and James Joyce. Most children’s writing provides a fresh look at the world around us which even adults find uplifting. 

Classics

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA By C.S. Lewis Price: RM29.90 

THE Chronicles of Narnia is said to be a must-read in everyone’s lifetime. In this acclaimed series, four children travel in and out of a mythical world, Narnia.  

Moving through all of these stories is the Lion Aslan, a majestic creature who helps the various characters discover their inner strengths and to overcome obstacles.  

The rich description of the world of Narnia makes it come alive. The characters are extremely lovable too. It is an excellent introduction to the fantasy genre for children between the ages of 10 and 12, but older kids and adults will enjoy this series as well. This compilation contains the first three books of the series. 

Book 1: The Magician’s Nephew – Tells of how Digory and Polly let the White Witch into the world of Narnia and how they met Aslan and witnessed the birth of Narnia. 

Book 2: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – This much-loved book introduces the Pevensie children – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.  

Book 3: The Horse and His Boy – This tale set during the Golden Age of Narnia features a boy named Shasta and horse named Bree. They journey from Calormen to Archenland, and learn about the King of Archenland and his children. 

Others in the series are Book 4: Prince Caspian, Book 5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Book 6: The Silver Chair and Book 7: The Last Battle

THE LITTLE PRINCE By Antoine De Saint-Exupery Price: RM21.90 

FIRST published in 1943, The Little Prince has been translated into many languages and is widely read around the world. 

This French classic tells of a pilot who is shot down in the Sahara. While trying to repair his wrecked plane, a little boy, a prince, appears out of nowhere and commands him to draw a sheep. This brings out his latent interest in art. 

And so begins their dialogue, which has charmed readers for decades with its acute observation of human nature. The rest of the book has the Little Prince describing his planetary journeys.  

The sharp and witty look at the world is refreshingly funny, and surprisingly still resonates today. Yet, it is also a poignant story of loneliness and solitude. 

In this edition, Saint-Exupery’s original artwork is included in full colour, adding interesting dimensions to the multi-layered story.  

THE JUNGLE BOOK By Rudyard Kipling Price: RM13.95 

THIS book formed the basis of Disney’s The Jungle Book, with Mowgli the Man-cub, and his “guardians” – lovable Baloo the Bear and wise Bagheera the Black Panther. Mowgli is a boy who grows up in the Indian jungle and learns the language and law of the wild. 

Colonel Hathi’s elephants, as well as Mowgli’s nemesis, the King of the Jungle, Shere Khan, and the evil snake Kaa, are all here. The book is more complex than the cartoon, but it is no less fun and engrossing, plus it has many more interesting animal characters.  

THE YEARLING By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Price: RM23.90 

GROWING up in the woods of Florida in the early 1900s is lonely, but Jody makes the most of the forest and river, which he explores on his own, creating his own adventures.  

He does not go to school like other children, but learns from the land. His lessons comprise farming, fishing and hunting. Not surprisingly, he soon longs for a friend but the closest to one he finds is a fawn who he names Flag. Together, Jody and Flag explore what life has to offer them in the woods.  

This classic story of a boy’s coming of age remains timeless. Jody’s innocent love and friendship with Flag is touching until he is forced to grow up and accept adult conventions and prejudices. 

The Classic Mammoth series offers other well-loved stories such as The Little House in the Prairie, National Velvet, The Wind in the Willows, The Box of Delights and The Hundred and One Dalmatians. 

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES By L.M. Montgomery Price: RM16.50 

ANNE Shirley is an orphan, but she doesn’t let her station in life get her down. When the Cuthbert siblings accidentally adopt her (they wanted a boy), Anne worms her way into gruff Marilla and gentle Mathew’s lives.  

They soon warm up to her, much to Anne’s joy. However, that doesn’t stop her from getting into loads of trouble with her best friend Diana and her nemesis Gilbert Blythe. I mean, breaking a slate over Gilbert’s head in front of all their classmates takes the cake!  

Despite getting up to lots of mischief, Anne still charms her way into everybody’s lives, including those who dislike her, and herein lies the charm of Green GablesAnne’s plucky, optimistic and joyful spirit.  

Her adventures do not end with this book. Montgomery wrote seven more books about Anne (and her children). However, this all happens after Green Gables – what better reason to continue reading about Anne? 

New-ish writings

THE GHOST OF GRANIA O’MALLEY By Michael Morpurgo Price: RM22.90 

THE Big Hill on Clare Island is threatened by a few greedy islanders, who want to mine it for gold. Jessie’s mother and old Mister Barney are the only people on the island against the mining.  

Although Jessie has a medical condition that makes her weak, this does not stop her (with her visiting American cousin Jack) trying to save the big hill. In this the children have help from Jessie’s “guardian angel,” the ghost of pirate Grania O’Malley.  

While it is mainly a ghost story set in modern day Ireland, there are many historical references within the story that makes it interesting and informative. Grania O’Malley, for one, is an Irish legend and here, the pirate leader is a likeable character. Part environment-friendly tale and part human triumph story, this book by Britain’s Children’s Laureate is entertaining and heart-warming.  

THE TIN PRINCESS By Philip Pullman Price: RM29.90 

TREASON, espionage and anarchy. Well, not quite ? but Pullman’s spin-off from the Sally Lockhart trilogy is packed with enough thrills, action and suspense to keep readers turning the page. 

In this tale of murder and intrigue, 16-year-old Becky finds herself in danger when she begins tutoring Princess Adelaide Bevan, wife of Prince Rudolf of Eschtenburg, the exiled heir to the throne of Razkavia. Dark forces loom over the tiny mountainous kingdom, threatening to tear it apart. 

Princess Adelaide has her own dark past and is sought by detective Jim Taylor, a friend of Sally. After an accident, Princess Adelaide is forced to travel to Razkavia and take over the throne. 

Recommended for 11- and 12-year-olds. 

MIRRORS Edited by Wendy Cooling Price: RM13.90 

MIRROR, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? From an old fairy tale like Snow White and Greek mythology to modern fables, mirrors have been fodder for interesting plots.  

This compilation of stories brings to life similar magical tales where the mirror plays a pivotal role. One is the classic myth of Narcissus and his reflection. Others are new stories fired up by the imaginations of some of today’s most interesting children’s writers, such as Melvin Burgess, Alan Durant, Malorie Blackman and Celia Rees. 

The stories will hold you spellbound – from a vampire parrot whose reflection cannot be seen in the mirror (in the tradition of vampires), to a website selling frightening mirrors, and a lazy barber who gets a visit from his great, great grandfather through a mirror.  

In this book, what you see in a mirror is never what it seems. You will never look at your reflection in the same way ever again. 

THE WONDERFUL STORY OF HENRY SUGAR By Roald Dahl Price: 25.50 

THE title does not lie. The stories are really wonderful. Filled with Dahl’s trademark magic, mystery and suspense, the characters are, as usual, intriguing.  

It opens with a boy who can talk to animals before unravelling other kooky people such as a “fingersmith” who steals from the rich, a ploughman who finds a treasure, and a hunter who learns the lesson of his life. 

Henry Sugar, meanwhile, is a bored, wealthy young man whose life changes when he finds out about a man who can see with his eyes closed. 

The experiences of all these characters come alive with every word, drawing you into a world of wonder. With Dahl, reading one story is never enough, or one book for that matter. He is simply one of the best storytellers that ever lived.  

GIRLS IN LOVE By Jacqueline Wilson Price: RM24.90 

THIS amusing story about girls growing up is hilarious yet tender. Ellie and best friends, Magda and Nadine, discover boys and first loves while coping with the pressures of school and family. Like any ordinary girl, Ellie is obsessed with her looks and comes up with the funniest schemes to lose weight, get a new hairstyle and acquire a new wardrobe. Of course it doesn’t help that both Magda and Nadine have their individual styles down pat, and look cool and trendy all the time.  

Feeling like Cinderella’s ugly sister (except that there are two Cinderellas this time), Ellie digs another hole for her self when she fibs to her best friends about having a boyfriend. Fortunately, all turns out well but not after Ellie causes a disaster or two in her own personal life. 

Wilson amazes again with her acute observation of teenage life, its troubles and concerns. Funny and sensitive, she cuts straight to the chase where it matters. It is hard to believe that she is almost 50 years old. 

This is the first book, so there are more comic adventures of the three friends. 

PUMPKIN PIE By Jean Ure Price: RM15.90 

PUMPKIN knows that it is difficult to be a middle child. More so when she’s caught between popular, gorgeous elder sister Petal and genius younger brother Pip. What can Pumpkin do against such odds? The only thing unique about her is her less than desirable curves, so Pumpkin figures that she’d better find something more special about herself soon or be overshadowed by her siblings.  

When her best friend Saffy gets her to join Ambrose Academy, an acting school, Pumpkin reckons that she has finally found her chance at fame – as an actress! Unfortunately, Pumpkin’s insecurity about her appearance catches up with her. Not the sort to sink into the ground and give up, she decides to carve her niche once and for all, even if it means starving herself. 

Oh, the horrible teens! Not a lovely time. Pumpkin's insecurity and identity crisis are something a lot of us can empathise with.  

Pumpkin Pie is a breeze to read because of Pumpkin’s snappy wit and cynical dialogue, and of course, the gorgeous pictures that accompany the story. What’s more admirable is how Ure manages to incorporate a serious issue like eating disorder into such a “light” tale. 

In the end, the lesson Pumpkin learns is something we could all use. 

THE FIELD GUIDE, BOOK ONE OF THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES By Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black Price: RM33.90 

THIS beautifully packaged tome delves into major, serious issues like divorce and breaking people’s noses. 

The Field Guide introduces us to Jared Grace, his twin brother Simon and his older sister Mallory. After their parents split up, the Graces and their mom move into a crumbling Victorian house owned by their off-the-rocker Aunt Lucinda.  

While exploring the house, Jared stumbles upon a secret compartment with weird things like a doll’s head and dead cockroaches on a string. The boy later discovers a room with strange books and an annoyed phantom that unleashes havoc in the house.  

Blamed for the mysterious being’s mischief, Jared is determined to get to the bottom of things.  

With lovely illustrations, The Field Guide is an easy-to-read page turner which revolves around the winning formula of a good mystery.  

THE VILLAGE BY THE SEA By Anita Desai Price: RM25.50 

THIS is a touching story of a poor family struggling to survive. Set in a fishing village near Bombay, this vivid tale shows how families can flourish against all odds with love and unity.  

Lila and Hari struggle to care for their ailing mother and deal with a drunkard father. Things come to a head when Hari, overwhelmed by the pressure, runs away, leaving his sister to shoulder the burden. 

Desai does a good job of portraying the poverty of the Indian people and how the human spirit can prevail against all odds.  

THE OTHER SIDE OF TRUTH By Beverly Naidoo Price: RM21.50 

“A SHOT. Two shots at the early gate in the early morning and a car screeches away down an avenue of palm trees.” 

When an outspoken Nigerian journalist is shot to death, the comfortable lives of his children Sade and Femi are shattered overnight. Before they can come to terms with their loss, they have to flee their home country to save their lives.  

This might seem a tad too heavy to be a children’s book but the award-winning novel by Beverly Naidoo proves that children can be exposed to the realities of life. 

 

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