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Find more Reid-Aloud Alert
I recently wrapped up a read-aloud project centered on children’s and young adult books published between 1950 and 1999. Those 200 books will be featured in my upcoming book Reid’s Read-Alouds 2. While researching that book, I happened to look at some children’s books published in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s and found that the following still-in-print classics are also wonderful to share with groups of modern-day children.
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (Gr. 4–8): When his tramp steamer goes down in a terrible storm, Alec grabs a rope tied to a massive stallion. The two find a desert island. They are rescued, and Alec is able to bring the horse back home with him. Alec and his neighbor Henry, an old racing hand, try to train the horse for professional racing. With the help of a newspaper reporter, they manage to get the Black in a charity event racing against the nation’s two fastest horses. The Black Stallion was published in 1941.
10-Minute Selection: Read Chapter 2, “The Storm.” The Drake is traveling up the coast of Spain when Alec wakes in the middle of the night. “The Drake lurched crazily and he was thrown onto the floor.” The engines die and the ship starts sinking. The Black’s owner is thrown overboard. Alec runs to the cargo area and frees the horse from its stall. The two go into the water and Alec grabs the rope attached to the Black’s halter. The horse swims for hours, occasionally changing its course. “And then he saw it—about a quarter of a mile away was a small island, not much more than a sandy reef in the sea.” The two make it up onto the beach, but the horse starts running and Alec is being dragged. “Hours in the water had swelled the knot—Alec couldn’t untie it!”
Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight (Gr. 3–7): Lassie meets Joe outside school every afternoon. Joe is heartbroken when his father is forced to sell Lassie to the Duke of Rudling. The Duke takes Lassie 400 miles away into Scotland, but Lassie escapes and makes the long, hard journey back to her true master.
10-Minute Selection: Tell your audience that Lassie has been captured by two dogcatchers. Read Chapter 16, “Donnell! Never Trust a Dog!” This is one of the more lighthearted chapters from the book. As one of the dogcatchers is leading Lassie out of the van and into the building, Lassie gets loose and runs down the corridor. She is chased into a courtroom and the judge says, “Do I understand that this is the surprise witness that the defense has promised?” The court erupts in laughter. As the dogcatchers enter the room, Lassie makes a daring escape out the window. “There was a sheer drop of twenty feet to the concrete below.” Lassie gets away, and the two dogcatchers return to their quarters and hilariously fill out their report. Have fun reading the Scottish dialect. “What we do the noo, is mak’ oot a report.” The chapter ends with one of them telling the other, “Never trust a bloomin’ dog. They ain’t—well—they ain’t ’uman, dogs ain’t. They just ain’t ’uman!” The first edition of Lassie Come-Home came out in 1940.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater (Gr. 1–4): A penguin named Captain Cook arrives at Mr. Popper’s house courtesy of Admiral Drake. The penguin is sad until the Poppers purchase a second penguin—Greta. Captain Cook and Greta have 10 chicks. “They were Nelson, Columbus, Louisa, Jenny, Scott, Magellan, Adelina, Isabella, Ferdinand, and Victoria.” The Poppers run out of money feeding the penguins and altering their house, so they become a traveling show—the Popper Performing Penguins. This book made its first appearance in 1938.
10-Minute Selection: Read Chapter 6, “More Troubles,” which opens with the line, “The children were the first to notice the policeman.” The officer is responding to a complaint about Captain Cook. Later on, Mr. Popper tries to find out “what the municipal ordinance about penguins is.” He gets nowhere. Skip to Chapter 8, “Penguin’s Promenade.” Mr. Popper takes Captain Cook on a neighborhood stroll. People refer to the penguin as a goose, a pelican, and a dodo. Mr. Popper and Captain Cook escape into a barbershop. Finish with Chapter 9, “In the Barber Shop.” The barber throws them out. Mr. Popper hails a taxi and they return home. The passage ends with “He went to lie down, for he was quite exhausted from all the unusual exercise, while Captain Cook had a shower and took a nap in the icebox.”
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald (Gr. 1–4): Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a small woman who lives in an upside-down house. And while she’s nervous around grown-ups, “she knows everything there is to know about children,” including how to correct bad behavior. The first book in a series, this title came out in 1947.
10-Minute Selection: Read the wonderful chapter “The Radish Cure.” Patsy decides one day that she doesn’t want to take a bath. “I won’t take a bath! I won’t ever take a bath! I hate baths! I HATE BATHS! I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaate baaaaaaaaaaaths!” Her mother calls Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, who tells her to buy radish seeds. “The small red round ones are the best, and don’t get that long white icicle type.” Patsy gets her way and becomes dirty. By the end of the third week, Patsy has a “layer of topsoil on her face, neck, and arms.” Her parents plant the radish seeds in the dirt that has formed on Patsy. A few days later, Patsy is horrified to find radishes growing on her. She breaks down and spends the entire day in the shower, using up two bars of soap. When her father comes home that evening, Patsy proudly holds out a plate of radishes.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (Gr. 2–5): Nine-year-old Pippi Longstocking lives in a house called Villa Villekulla. Her mother is in Heaven and her father is out at sea. Her companions are a monkey named Mr. Nilsson and a horse. Pippi impresses her neighbors Tommy and Annika with her unique personality. Pippi Longstocking was published in 1950.
10-Minute Selection: Read Chapter 4, “Pippi Goes to School.” Pippi decides to go to school with Tommy and Annika because she wants Christmas vacation. She meets the teacher and tells her that her name is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking. The teacher patiently tries to find out how much Pippi knows about arithmetic and spelling, but Pippi gives unusual responses. For example, the teacher shows Pippi the letter s and Pippi promptly goes into a story about a snake encounter she had in India. Eventually the teacher says that perhaps Pippi can come back when she’s older, and Pippi rides off on her horse.
Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by Eleanor Farjeon (K–Gr. 4): This wonderful story first appeared in Farjeon’s book Martin Pippin in the Daisy-Field in 1937. It is now featured in its own edition and takes 20 to 30 minutes to read. Elsie is a natural born jump-rope skipper. When she reaches the age of seven, the fairies come to her and teach her special skips: “The High Skip, / The Sly Skip, / The Skip Like a Feather, / The Long Skip, / The Strong Skip, / And the Skip All Together! / The Slow Skip, / The Toe Skip / The Skip Double-Double, / The Fast Skip, / The Last Skip, / And the Skip against Trouble!” Years later, a greedy lord threatens to build factories on Mount Caburn, the sacred place where both the humans and the fairies skipped. The villagers finally tell the lord he can have the land “when the last skipper skips the last skip.” Elsie, now 109 years old, shows up and skips on and on and on (for the deal was her idea). When the lord tries to stop her, she employs all of the special skips the fairies taught her and defeats him. Your young audience will chime in the repetitive chant that appears throughout the story and ends the book as well: “ANdy SPANdy SUGARdy CANdy / FRENCH ALmond ROCK! / Breadandbutterforyoursupper’s-allyour mother’s-GOT!”
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (K–Gr. 3): Pooh lives in the Hundred Acre Wood with his friends Christopher Robin, Rabbit, Piglet, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga, and Roo. Some of their adventures include “Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle,” “Piglet Meets a Heffalump,” “Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One,” and “Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole.” Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926. The House at Pooh Corner (1928) is the sequel.
10-Minute Selection: My young audiences have the biggest reaction to the story “Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place.” This may be because they are familiar with Disney’s treatment of this story, but the original text is much, much better. After doing his Stoutness Exercises, Pooh visits his friend Rabbit. The two have a humorous exchange before Rabbit invites Pooh inside. Pooh eats quite a bit food and, as he exits through Rabbit’s front door, gets stuck. “‘It all comes,’ said Pooh crossly, ‘of not having front doors big enough.’” Christopher Robin shows up and announces that Pooh will have to wait a week to get thin. Rabbit utilizes Pooh’s bottom as a “towel-horse” to hang his washing, and Christopher Robin reads “a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness.” After a week and with the help of several woodland animals, Pooh’s friends manage to pull him out: “‘Pop!’ just as if a cork were coming out of a bottle.”
Rob Reid is the author of two picture books and 10 resource books for librarians, teachers, and parents. He is currently working on a companion book to Reid’s Read-Alouds: Selections for Children and Teens (2009). Visit Rob at www.rapnrob.com.
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