Mum’s Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum

I thought it might be interesting to start a new topic, and share my thoughts on some of the books my girls have been enjoying lately. We all bring different strengths and weaknesses to this parenting game, and reading bedtime stories is definitely my speciality. I’m not great at playing games or teaching them stuff, but one thing I’ve done without fail since both of them were babies is a nightly bedtime story.

4YO recently noticed that big sister’s books contained something mysterious called “chapters”. Having tried, not very successfully, to explain what a chapter was, I asked her if she’d like a “chapter book”. I thought The Wonderful Wizard of Oz might be a good one to try as 4YO had already seen snippets of the film.

This is my copy of The Wizard of Oz:

The Wizard of Oz (WH Smith 1979 edition)

The Wizard of Oz (WH Smith 1979 edition)

My Mum was great at writing messages on the inside of books, so I know that this one was a present for my 8th birthday, dating it around 1980. The illustrations are adapted from the original edition’s artwork by WW Denslow – some of them are pretty lurid due to what I suspect was a 1980’s publisher’s enthusiasm for full colour, but those which have been left as the original line drawings are really nice, and clearly influenced the look of the 1939 film.

Lion and Scarecrow, original illustration by WW Denslow

Lion and Scarecrow, original illustration by WW Denslow

The book was first published in Chicago in 1899, and the American English of over a century ago feels a bit cumbersome to read aloud at times. The sentences are longer than you’d expect in contemporary children’s books, and the vocabulary is richer too. I tend to skim ahead while I’m reading aloud, checking if there’s anything I think that my little listener really won’t understand and substituting simpler words at times. But I soon stopped doing this with The Wizard of Oz, as I realised that 4YO was soaking it up like a sponge and wasn’t showing any signs of getting bored.

The chapters are short enough to read one a night, and with 21 in total, took us three weeks to read. 4YO remembered every night which number we were up to, and didn’t really mind who read it to her – so on different nights Mum, Dad and Granny all took turns and read the next chapter even if we hadn’t read the night before and didn’t really know what was going on!

The story is lovely. It’s been described as ‘the first American fairy tale’ and there is a real sense of freshness about Oz, with its winged monkeys, lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) which is very different to any of the magical lands you get in older European fairy tales. I also love how L.Frank Baum subtly shows that despite all their self-doubt, the scarecrow is actually the cleverest, the tin man is the most loving, and the lion, the bravest of the group. At one point Oz says to the Scarecrow “tomorrow morning, I will stuff your head with brains.  I cannot tell you how to use them however; you must find that out for yourself” which I think is a fantastic message to give children about having confidence in your ability to find things out for yourself.

Reading this book with 4YO has reminded me that even if you think the vocabulary and sentence structure in a book is too advanced, it’s still worth giving it a try. If your child’s not enjoying it they’ll either fall asleep or walk away, and if they don’t understand but want to, they’ll just ask you to read it again and again until they’ve absorbed it. 4YO demonstrated this once we’d reached the end of the story, by asking us to read the final chapter over again every night for a week!  We’ve now moved on to The Wind in the Willows, so I’ll try and post a review of that soon!

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