As a girl, I was transfixed by the idea that city and country folk could be different. Metropolitan visitors were always arriving at my doll house with far too much luggage and cosmopolitan ways; and the farmers left dusty tracks. Aesop’s “The Country Mouse and The City Mouse” further fed my cravings in this department, but so did the many books in which setting was an integral part of the story. Revisiting those halcyon days, I collected my picks of the best classic children’s books on city and country living. Whether city or country dwellers, or somewhere in between, your children will cast themselves as the lovingly, expertly drawn characters in each adventure – from a dancing croc to a stealthy owl seeker. Here are books that help make sense of home, rouse a spirit of plunging in, and incite a dedication to exploration (and good literature!). –Emily Frost
CHILD IN THE CITY
The pacing of Kay Thompson’s Eloise perfectly mirrors the frenzy of midtown, the bustle of an illustrious hotel, and most importantly, the energy of a six-year-old girl. To live in the Plaza, with the revolving door constantly delivering fresh faces and activities, was my deepest girlhood dream. How many times did I unfold the page depicting Eloise’s circuitous and purposeless elevator ride to carefully trace her route? Enough that my original copy is falling apart. Spanning sixty-five pages, this pink, black and white kaleidoscope entertained me for hours. Ooooooooooooooooooo, I absolutely love Eloise.
Little readers or listeners may be more astounded by the strong-willed Madeleine than by the delightful scenes of Paris, from an “old house…that was covered in vines” to all the picturesque squares. But they’ll surely pick up on Bemelman’s insistence that despite our wish to control our lives – by every day leaving the house at half past nine, in two straight lines, in rain or shine – seeking the unexpected is much more fun!
Lyle Crocodile lives at East 88th Street, but he doesn’t stay cooped up there for long. Life might get dull or lonely for a crocodile living with a country family, but NYC’s shopping hordes afford Lyle plenty of chances to cause a commotion. A fantastic date, Lyle reminded me of just how much there is to do and see in town, like ice skating arm-in-arm with Mrs. Pimm of East 88th Street.
Make Way For Ducklings has always made me beam with Boston pride (even as a picket-fence suburbanite). First published in 1941 with quaint illustrations, this story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s introduction to a friendly policeman and a downtown that stops in its tracks for a parade of waddling ducklings evokes the slower, neighborly pace of early 20th century cities. Indeed, in these pages, Boston looks like a very pleasant town, a place where you could ride swan boats all day long.
The borough has been covered in mounds of wet, cold glop – but nevertheless, we drift, slide, crunch, and smile through Peter’s snowy day, catching glimpses of white-hatted stop lights and railings, the buildings softened by fluffy flakes. Later, Peter encounters the best part of apartment life (for the under ten crowd): calling to your friend across the hall and disappearing together into the “deep, deep snow.”
Printed on recycled paper and popping with blooming shrubs and trees, this recent book will shift your tot’s focus up from the subway to the city’s rooftops – where, as this story depicts, there are endless possibilities to create a “lush, green world” (New Yorkers, note the similarities to the High Line, which inspired the story). Warning: post-reading they’ll probably want a wheelbarrow, a trowel and to get to work right away – a small price for a new understanding of urban renewal.
Other notable city classics:The Cricket in Times Square, This is New York, Busy, Busy Town, Jenny and The Cat Club, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
12 favorite books to make your child feel at home.
by Emily Frost
September 10, 2009
Owl Moon reads like one long poem, an ode to the quieter moments parents spend with their children, teaching them how to listen for owls. Arranged in stanzas, with startlingly perfect images and a hushed tone, Owl Moon conveys the heightened senses we experience when far away from the manmade world. We delve into the mind of a child: “The moon was high above us. It seemed to fit exactly over the center of the clearing and the snow below it was whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl.”
Brave Irene faces a treacherous journey through a snow storm to deliver the duchess’ dress, freshly made by her ailing mother. When problems arise for Irene, however, she can’t just hail a cab – alone in the dark, buried by heavy drifts, Irene must pick herself back up again. The indifferent countryside becomes an ideal setting for heroism. Even when the lights of the palace finally shine below, obstacles keep cropping up. The feminist in me can’t let go of my disappointment that the whole adventure revolves around the delivery of a ball gown, but nevertheless, I do like thinking of myself as a “Brave Irene.”
Miss Rumphius tells the story of how one talented and far-ranging traveler finds the most beauty back home. Personally, I’ve always found the notion of a single older woman contentedly living in a cottage by the sea, on a mission to make the world more beautiful by scattering lupine seeds far and wide, extremely comforting – and so will your children.
Before there was Babe, there was Wilbur, who, through the power of White’s language, comes to life far more vividly than his silver screen cousin. An example of this literary talent: Wilbur loved his barn for “the heat of the sun, the passage of swallow, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.” Read Charlotte’s Web aloud to your children (editing as you see fit – or is it never too early for them to go vegan?) and watch them embrace their inner farmhand, marveling at worms, mud, and spider webs.
Meant for older children, The Secret Garden both thoroughly traumatized me and sparked a long romance with the underbelly of bushes and the backs of trees in my quest to forge my own clandestine green cocoons. Themes of death, sickness, and orphaning course through the novel, but if you close your eyes, the misty moors and hidden buds open before you. Once you rediscover the rejuvenating, character-shaping effects of fresh air and a garden to call one’s own, you’ll be packing up the Volvo in no time for an old fashioned (New) England hillside romp.
Funny Farm is not the 1988 Chevy Chase film, but it does center on the enduring theme of city folk visiting the country and making hilarious discoveries. “It is Edward’s first visit to Hawthorne Farm.” Edward is an adorably suited and bow-tied black and white boxer pup, and while nothing that happens to him is so very astonishing (he falls in mud, gets a bucket on his foot and learns to paint the barn, among other activities), the story shines by resisting the usual moralizing. We’re not really sure what Edward is feeling, surrounded by a cohort of animals dressed up in farm gear, and it’s in that uncertainty that your young country or city dweller’s imagination can flourish.