(I'm flipping my book review post this week from Thursday to Tuesday, in order to join in with the Once a Month Book Club link up over at A Permanent Flux. This month's theme is A book with a colour in its title.)
My big girls and I have a longstanding tradition of reading a chapter or two of a novel before bed. Even though, at almost 9 and 7, they are both highly competent readers, they enjoy being read to; they like the quiet, snuggly time together, and they like sharing the books with each other in a way that they don't quite experience when they are reading to themselves in tandem.
I tend to choose books for the read-alouds that are just a fraction beyond their capacity for reading alone, classic stories that they enjoy but might struggle with if my voice wasn't there to make meaning. When they were younger, we worked our way through Enid Blyton's Famous Five books, the Trixie Belden mysteries, the Narnia books, several George MacDonald titles, The Secret Garden, The Little White Horse, A Wrinkle in Time and several others in this way. They have both revisited these titles and loved them as independent readers too, but their first introduction was via bedtime read-alouds. I was very excited, therefore, when my eldest suggested that the time was ripe to start on my set of Anne of Green Gables books (I have the full collection from my own childhood).
Let me confess here and now that I am an Anne-o-phile. I loved these books with an enduring passion as a child and teenager, and even as an adult I revisit some of them often. (My favourite book in the series is actually the last one, Rilla of Ingleside, which confronts Anne and her family with the pain and loss of war). I hoped that my girls would love Anne, that dreamy, dramatic, fiery "red-headed snippet", as much as I did.
And they did. Like me, they loved L M Montgomery's gift for evoking place, the rich, vibrant language with which she invokes Prince Edward Island in all its beauties. They loved the fully realised supporting characters, all drawn with humour, depth and real personalities that make them jump off the page. (My eldest's favourite character in the book, aside from Anne, is gentle, shy Matthew Cuthbert, while my 7 year old has a tendresse for both apple-cheeked Diana Barry and nosy, bossy, kind-hearted Mrs Rachel Lynde. My own favourite of the supporting cast is, and will always be, Anne's beloved teacher, Miss Stacey). They liked the rise and fall of the plot, the funny and sometimes sad incidents that Montgomery crafts to show the life of a small rural community nearing the close of the 19th century.
Above all, though, they loved Anne herself. Anne Shirley, red head, dreamer, passionate, intelligent, prone to dramatics; Anne the unwanted orphan who worms her way so thoroughly into the affections of everyone in Avonlea; Anne the developing girlchild, who passes from childhood to young adulthood as the book progresses. Unlike my husband, who developed an annoying habit of snorting in disbelief at some of Anne's more overwrought outpourings, they saw the humour AND the pathos in equal measure and empathised wholeheartedly with her.
We have now read Anne of Avonlea, the sequel, and have just begun the third book, Anne of the Island. My eldest has also read on ahead and is soaking up Rainbow Valley, the second-last volume, on her own.
There are elements of the Anne books that don't resonate with me or with my girls - the of-its-time view of gender roles, the casual prejudice against non-English-background people (French Canadians are unremittingly portrayed as stupid, menial and servant-class only), the particulars of the moral and romantic codes that Anne and her peers adopt. Like me, though, my girls have shown themselves able to look beyond these things to enjoy these books for their many strengths and delights. I think I have made two lifelong Anne-o-philes, and I'm very happy about it :-)
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