Giving children imaginary places -- Alice and Old Mother West Wind

Happy Labor Day weekend! I have been busy laboring--it is "let's paint the house" weekend, and since it's an old Victorian, that we bought cheaply due to dilapidations, it is, of course, proving a much more challenging job than anticipated...

So even though I've read quite a bit this weekend, I haven't had the ability to concentrate that writing a review requires of me, and so I thought I'd just share what we're reading to the boys.

Our nine-year old asked out of the blue a few weeks ago if we would read him Alice in Wonderland. We were surprised, but more than happy to oblige, and are now half way across the chessboard of Through the Looking Glass. My husband and I flip-flop every night (taking the boys in turn), but since we both know Alice almost by heart, it doesn't matter that we are missing chapters...and indeed, I'm realizing that Alice is one of the most significant sources of quotes I have stored in my mind, after Shakespeare, the Bible, Winnie-the-Pooh, and possibly the Lord of the Rings (if repeated iterations of "You fool, take off the ring!" counts). We have two books going--my husband is reading from his Mervyn Peake edition (he is a Peake collector), but I don't trust myself to read a collectible book in bed, so I'm reading from a Tenniel reprint of no significance. Alice is eminently read-out-loudable, and I highly recommend it.

My six-year-old has now had 6 days of first grade, and is finding it tiring and stressful. Gone are the days when school seemingly consisted of drawing with his best friend on a shared piece of a paper, interspersed with breaks during which he played legos with the same friend. In general it was a halcyon year of leisure and gentle exploration that will probably never be matched again, and he seems to have realized this.

So I wanted to read him something gentle, stress-free, and unchallenging, and decided on a whim to try the Old Mother West Wind books by Thornton Burgess (a huge series of books written from 1910 to 1965). They tell the doings of a community of boy animals and the breezes who play in the woods and meadows with them--Reddy Fox tries to catch a fish! Johnny Chuck looses his temper! One of the breezes is naughty, and stays in the meadow overnight!--interspersed with just-so stories of the how the skunk got his stripes variety. The slightly stilted, repetitive, mannered, etc., prose, although a bit off-putting to an independent reader such as myself, make these books very good for bed-time reading to a boy who loves animals.

Some books create places in the imaginary geography readers gather in their minds. Both the Alices and Old Mother West Wind et seq. are such books. Many of us have Wonderland and Looking Glass land in our minds, but my six-year old is also going to have a bit of imaginary meadow and woods, where animal friends play. As he was falling asleep last night, he described what the Little Lone Path through the woods looked like, and how he would go about drawing the Merry Little Breezes. I'll keep reading the stories to him, as long as he wants to listen, and maybe, when he's my age, painting his own house (or repainting this one, since he is going to live with me forever), he will go there again. (I myself went to Prydain again today...)

There are so many, many, wonderful place to give one's children (Moominland, Narnia, Moondor* and more) it is a pity there aren't more nights in a day for bedtime reading out loud...

You can take a look at Old Mother West Wind for yourself here.

*this last was the boys' suggestion--they thought I'd been out of their sight too long and have tracked me down; it's from an Australian series about the Doofuzz Dudes that captured their imagination last year.


  1. Sorry I typed the comment on the wrong account!

    I love Old Mother West Wind! I'm 25 and still love reading it. It's actually one of my all time favorites as a kid. I remember checking out the one book at least 15 times from the library and when I found it at the library book sale (i was maybe 10) I thought I hit the jackpot.

    I still have a huge collection of those books and they are adorable!

    My aunt was a very big Alice fan she collects all sorts of stuff from the movie and books (mainly books) but I don't remember reading it until I was 12 or 13. Still it stayed with me a long time and really good books.

  2. OMG, you just gave me a childhood flash! I haven't thought about Old Mother West Wind in years, but I had pretty much that copy you showed. I'm assuming it was reprinted along the way, but the copy I had was old and crumbling and that was one of the reasons that I loved it so much.

  3. I own both Alices and a volume of Old Mother West Wind stories. I've read all of them many many times.

  4. I don't see a book submission guideline. Please let me know if you accept small press, independent, and self-published books, and what your submission guidelines are. I'd like to add your site to our pub resource page.

    The listing would go on our author's resource website here:


    You can see examples of what other book reviewers have listed there. Please let me know if you'd like to add your blog.

    And guess what? I blogged about Neil Gaiman's library, too! I really love Gaiman.

  5. Oh, Alice! I find that it's also one of the most quoted pieces of literature for me.


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