When Emily was 5, we read The Hobbit. She loved the Unexpected Party, but was sad about Thorin Oakenshield. At six we read The Phantom Tollbooth and Treasure Island. When she was 7 and Elias 4, we read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass together. Viv and Emily started the Narnia series last year and now she reads it on her own.
As we begin a summer that will see Emily's eight birthday and Elias' fifth, the three of us are reading The Black Arrow: another Robert Louis Stevenson classic, illustrated once again by N.C. Wyeth and a story I absolutely adored when in 3rd and 4th grade.
Adventure tales from 100 years ago challenge modern children and parents with complex dialog and sentence structure. Murder, revenge, and young people in danger and make for challenging and complex subject matter. You would not expect a 2nd grader to venture into these woods on her own, let alone with her little brother in tow. But with an adult reader to light the way, to answer questions and to process whatever transpires, it is a journey they are thrilled to take.
Four for the greefs that I have felt,
Four for the nomber of ill menne
That have opressid me now and then.
Old Apulyaird is ded.
That burned Grimstone, walls and thatch.
That cut Sir Harry Shelton's throat.
We shall think it fair sport.
A blak arrow in each blak heart.
Get ye to your knees for to pray:
Ye are ded theeves, by yea and nay!
of the Green Wood,
And his jolly fellaweship.
Emily, of course, loves the fact that there is a heroine in the story, brave and true, who spends much of the first part disguised as a boy. Elias likes to show that he can anticipate what will happen next or that he remembers a key piece of the story. There is plenty of moral ambiguity in The Black Arrow, as even the hero steals a ship without regard for how it may impact its owner (though in the end, he makes amends). The unfamiliar language and setting are animated when they hear the words read aloud and can get the sense from the sound of them, much as they have learned to do in attending Gilbert & Sullivan and Shakespeare productions. It is like learning to float on the surface of deep water and acclimating to that element before ducking beneath the waves to see what is below. It asks much of them and of me, but all three rise eagerly to the challenge.