Choosing chapter books to read aloud to my girls is not something I've ever really given much thought or planning. Instead, I just pick up whatever I see that looks interesting or that I've recently read a review of, etc. Lately, though, I've been thinking about how I should probably be a little more intentional about what I read, at least occasionally. (How's that for noncommittal? ;-) ) What I mean is this: I don't think think our read-alouds have to always be educational or challenging, but because we are home educators and because I consider reading aloud a very important part of our school day (although the girls don't even realize that we're "doing school" while we're reading), I should get in as much good literature as I possibly can. If you scroll down a bit and look over in the sidebar, you'll see a list of our read-alouds for this year. You'll note that Nim's Island was our third chapter book of 2011, but you'll also note that there's no review of it linked. I meant to review it, but I ran out of time. However, I think I can sum it up in one sentence: a fun read, but nothing that challenged us in any way. It's one of those books that I think Lulu could've read on her own, even at the tender age of six. In thinking about our read-alouds, I'm moving toward consistently choosing books that are harder than my best reader could tackle on her own. I'm sure I won't always do this, but I prefer it this way.
Okay, now that all that preliminary business is out of the way, let's get on to the real matter at hand: Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. Published in 1929 and awarded a Newbery Award the following year, Hitty is definitely a book that fulfills the requirement I explained above. It's not one of those books I could've continued reading after I'd come a hairsbreadth from reading myself to sleep, somehow managing to keep one eye open enough to read the text, brain on autopilot. (Please tell me you do that, too, at least sometimes!) No, Hitty requires diligence and concentration on the part of the reader. The plot is detailed and the sentence syntax is unlike that of our day. However, I never once grew tired of this story; on the contrary, I was eager each time I picked it up to find out what Hitty was going to experience next. My girls seemed to love it as much as I did. The story is rather simple, actually. It is simply the story of Hitty's hundred years of existence. Hitty is a wooden doll made of lucky mountain-ash wood, and at the story's beginning she belongs to a loving little girl named Phoebe Preble. When Phoebe's family goes aboard a whaling vessel, Hitty goes along, too. It's after this that almost all of the adventures begin. She is shipwrecked; she is taken as an idol on some uncivilized island somewhere in the middle of some ocean; she becomes the possession of a missionary child, a Quaker child, and a slave; she meets the poet John Greenleaf Whittier and sees Charles Dickens; in short, she has no end of adventures. Hitty's adventures are interesting, but what makes the story so absorbing is Hitty's voice. I just came to love her. This little wooden doll speaks with such intelligence and warmth. Although I wouldn't say that this is a funny story, there are moments when Hitty's wit shines through. I think that reading stories like this to my girls, young though they are, has immeasurable benefits. I've noted before how reading the Little House on the Prairie books has expanded my girls' vocabularies; I can't help but think that reading sentences that are more complex that we're accustomed to speaking will have a similar effect. I think it's funny that a couple of my blog readers and fellow bloggers commented about our reading Hitty when I mentioned it last week, and they had opposite opinions. Carrie said that she had to read it when she was twelve or thirteen and that she hated it. Catherine, on the other hand, said that she has already read it to her very young daughter twice, she loved it herself so much as a child. I wonder if this is one of those books that adults think children should love. (This is an opinion that is often bandied about when award-winning books are discussed.) I don't know. I do know that when I closed the book this little doll had come to mean so much to me that I had tears in my eyes. I also know that Lulu immediately grabbed the book and declared that she wanted to read it for herself. I know this is one story we'll be revisiting. Highly, highly recommended. (Please note that since this book was written in 1929, there are many elements in it that are non-PC today. See some of the reviews here for more about this.) Rachel Field also wrote a Caldecott Award winning book, Prayer for a Child, which is a Five in a Row book we own but that I don't think I ever read with my girls. She also wrote another juvenile chapter book that I have a copy of on our schoolroom shelf: Calico Bush. I think I need to pull both of these out and share them.
This review was also published at my blog, Hope Is the Word.