The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

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I love the movie The Wizard of Oz. When I was 4 years old, my mom got me a copy of the movie on VHS, but when I put it in the VCR (I feel so old!), the tape was nothing but squiggles. Somehow the tape had become corrupted, and I was devastated. We went back to the store to exchange it, and the store clerk sadly told me that they didn’t have any other copies but that I could pick out any other movie I wanted. Well, I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I took my little brother, and we marched up every aisle, looking behind every movie, because I knew there had to be another copy hidden there somewhere. And our hard work paid off — I found a copy of the special 50th anniversary commemorative edition. It had a booklet on the front cover talking about how the movie was made, and it had a beautiful close-up picture of Dorothy’s red sequined shoes. I was in heaven. I must have watched that tape over and over and over. I flipped through the booklet so often that within a few years, it was in tatters. Even though I haven’t used a VCR in years, that’s probably still one of the most used presents I’ve ever received.

So it was only natural that I would want to read the original story. As a child, the book didn’t compare to the movie. There was no singing, dancing, or magical transition from black-and-white to color. And they got some of the details wrong — Dorothy’s shoes are supposed to be red, not silver, and Miss Gulch is supposed to scare Toto in the beginning and become the Wicked Witch of the West.

As an adult, however, I enjoy reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz every now and then. The movie follows the book loosely, with a few of the lines in the movie taken directly out of the book. And the book has a darkness and morality that is reminiscent of the Grimm fairy tales. (The Tin Man became the Tin Man because the Wicked Witch of the West enchanted his ax to basically hack his body apart.) But it’s still so whimsical that I guess you can consider it a children’s story. The other Oz books aren’t as captivating to me as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is. But perhaps I’m biased.

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: A little

You might also likeThe Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster; Coraline, by Neil Gaiman; Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie

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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

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One of my goals this year is to go back and re-read books. When I was younger, I used to re-read books all the time. Certain characters became as beloved and well known to me as my closest friends were. But as an adult, I have found that I hardly ever go back and re-read books. I think a big part of that is because I have easy access to a library, and I don’t have to wait for a ride anytime I want a new book. So I’m going back through my Goodreads “Read” list and working my way through it backwards.

Although I was familiar with the BBC version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I didn’t sit down and read this series until I was an adult. It was at that time that I discovered there was some controversy about the reading order of this series. Although The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was published first, it is actually often considered the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Prince Caspian is the first book in the series, chronologically (that is, the events in Prince Caspian take place before the events of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). I am not going to sit here and tell you that you MUST read one of these books before the other. You are in charge of what you read, so you can make the decision. Instead, I’m going to gently suggest that if the only story of the series  you are familiar with is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then I think you should start with that book. It will give you the best idea of Narnia and Lewis’ style of writing. And you’re starting with the familiar. Then you can treat Prince Caspian as a prequel.

This series is very allegorical to Christian ideologies, and as the series progresses, the allegory becomes more and more obvious. In these first books, though, the allegory is very subtle, which I prefer. You can read it as a straight children’s story and enjoy it deeply for that alone. Or, if you want, you can read more into it and find symbolism that will enhance your reading experience.

I listened to the story this time on audio, performed by Michael York, and I think York does a brilliant job of catching the warmth and whimsy of the story, while adding just a touch of gravitas. The story is whimsical, while at the same time addressing heavier topics, such as lying, stealing, and death. I think it can be hard for an author to capture a balance between the whimsical and the heavy, but Lewis does so brilliantly.

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: Very, very little

You may also likeThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank L. Baum; The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett; The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (although, fair warning, this is not a children’s book)