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actor212

I really shouldn't havwe tagged you in that meme...

I don't know about remedially teaching someone English, but I do know that to unlock the beauty of playing with words in English, nothing beats Doctor Seuss. Very simple rhyme schemes, yet some extraordinarily adult imagery.

"I would not eat them with a fox.
I would not eat them in a box.
I would not eat them, Sam I Am
I would not eat green eggs and ham."

Shel Silverstein. Now there's an author you can wrap your mind around.

Linkmeister

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

Ichabod was a suitable figure for such a steed. He rode with short
stirrups, which brought his knees nearly up to the pommel of the saddle;
his sharp elbows stuck out like grasshoppers'; he carried his whip
perpendicularly in his hand, like a sceptre, and as his horse jogged on,
the motion of his arms was not unlike the flapping of a pair of wings.

That's imagery.

the blonde

Can't quote long passages, but "The Wind in the Willows" is a beautiful story, beautifully told. I was so eager to get to the part where the four friends storm Toad Hall and take it back from the weasels and stoats, I read ahead of my Dad to the end. Now that's suspense!

Mike Schilling

I would have been about 14 when I first started to go through my parents' collected Mark Twain: Roughing It, Life on the Mississippi, Puddnhead Wilson, etc.

When I took time off from Mr. Clemens to read a reporter's book about Watergate. I couldn't bear it. The English was so awful compared to what I'd become accustomed to. Not that it was ungrammatical or illiterate, just ungainly, with awkward rhythms and lightning bugs instead of lightning. At any rate, to improve your appreciation for and mastery of the American language, I'd recommend Twain, Twain, and more Twain.

Apostate

Quite right. I learned English that way. It's a great way to learn any foreign language, to dive into their children's books.

I've read everything you listed, but I started out with Enid Blyton's books. I believe I read everything she wrote. There was a predictability to her and I dare say I would find a degree of fault with the underlying philosophy of those books if I were to re-read them, but they were well and imaginatively written and they were interesting stories. The best part was that she wrote for all age groups from 7 to 15, and many of her stories for children were extremely engaging - full of gnomes and magic.

Magic reminds me - I loved The Chimneys of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston. That influenced me so deeply.

Also, Anne of Green Gables was another one. I do go back to that series from time to time; since it's so ubiquitous, I was able to find them again, but all the rest of my childhood collection was lost when I left home and I haven't bothered to build it up again.

I wouldn't know where to begin if I were to try and pick out a quotable passage. The whole point of these books for me was not their literary merit so much as how they opened up a language and a culture to me. Because they were series with repeating characters and a certain cohesion in diction and idiom, they were easy to absorb and I think I owe my near-perfect grammar to them. I didn't learn English grammar formally at all, just through reading.

But the Chimneys book is an exception. That simply fascinated me as a child.

sfmike

"A Wrinkle in Time" is Madeleine L'Engle's perfect masterpiece, written in easily accessible English for smart children and smart foreign language adults alike. And I feel similarly about the first three Harry Potter books, up through the "Prisoner of Azkaban," before they became bloated bestsellers.

Cleveland Bob

There are many favorites to be sure but one that stands out in my memory as having a big influence on my imagination is Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are.

I'm apprehensive about going to the see the soon to be released film adaptation, but I'll probably go regardless.

And I'd add to Mike Shilling's comment of Twain, Twain and more Twain. Edgar Allen Poe too.

merciless

Charlotte's Web. I love the way E.B. White writes.

Doug K

I reread 'Wind in the Willows' every few years. My favorite passage is of course messing about in boats,
"There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not."
That, and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Re-read Treasure Island recently, reminded by a fine poem by Seamus Heaney in the New Yorker.
http://dkretzmann.blogspot.com/2009/02/weighing-anchor.html
The boys listened to Kidnapped in an audio book on a road trip, but it didn't seem to seize their imaginations the way Gregor did.

The other favorite rediscovered during my second time through childhood (this time with memory and dread) was Moomintroll. Hardly an English classic, but the translation is excellent.
"I cannot stress enough the perils of your friends marrying.. One day you are all a society of outlaws, adventurous comrades and companions who will be pushing off somewhere or other when things become tiresome; you have all the world to choose from, just by looking at the map...
... and then, suddenly, they're not interested any more. They want to keep warm. They're afraid of rain. They start collecting big things that can't fit in a rucksack. They talk only of small things. They don't like to make sudden decisions and do something contrariwise. Formerly they hoisted sail: now they carpenter little shelves for porcelain mugs. Oh, who can speak of such matters without shedding tears !"
Moominpappa's Memoirs, Tove Jansson.

It is very curious that Mr Buchanan cites an Italian and a Norwegian story in his sneer. What's wrong with Johnny Appleseed ?

Ken Muldrew

Another vote for Wind in the Willows, here. Also for Twain (Tom, Huck, Pudd'n, Life on the Mississippi--but not The Mysterious Stranger (my daughter demanded that I stop reading that because we were wasting precious evenings (though she was quite young at the time)). Anything by Roald Dahl is fun to read. The childrens' book that Salman Rushdie wrote (the name escapes me at the moment) was awfully fun to read to my daughter. Definitely one for reading out loud just to hear yourself say those words. My youngest daughter was a huge fan of Shel Silverstein but she wouldn't let me read those to her; I don't know why.

I used to love reading Hunter S. Thompson's stories about Buchanan the pitbull. I don't think children would enjoy them.

Belvoir

Apostate, I read as much Enid Blyton as I could on annual summer trips to Ireland in the 70's, raiding my cousins' bookshelves. She had a very real appeal to a 'young adult' reader. French and Saunders fabulously sent her up in their parodies of the Famous Five- "Arrest that man, he looks foreign!". Blyton's been discredited for her old-school casual bigotry towards non-whites, but she could still tell a tale.

A book that really stayed with me was "The Saturdays" by Elizabeth Enright from 1939 or so. The five Melendy children have no mother, are looked after by Cuffy the housekeeper while father's oft away in DC as war approaches. They have the run of a Manhattan townhouse, the attic as their playroom where they spend rainy days dreaming about their futures- an actress, a concert pianist, an artist. The story is, they pool their weekly allowances so each kid goes out on the town by his or her self on an adventure. What follows is a chapter apiece of them going to the opera, the museum, the circus, a beauty parlor- the giddiness of independence, going out in the big city by one's self for the first time. And something unexpected happens on each venture, - a lost dog, a working-class beautician telling her story in Times Square, an elderly dowager telling why she's the girl in the painting. A little boy lost at the circus. Just an unbelievably rich story, can't do it justice here.

"The Saturdays" taught me the pleasures of urbanity, and even as I was reading it, a certain nostalgia for a lost era in the city. In the bad old 70's, it seemed i couldn't go out like these characters did. Still, love the book so.


tnosaj

I recently spent some time in Germany, learning the language. Childrens' books are an amazing treasure when you're trying to wrap your head around a new vocabulary, grammar, and culture. And on TV, Sesamstraße is fantastic for getting a feel for the rhythm of a language.

Thank you for your excellent articulation of how childrens' books form part of our cultural backbone. I'd been searching for the words.

Back to English - from The Wind in the Willows I learned a deep curiosity for peoples' interests and motivations.

From Charlotte's Web I learned that grown-ups weren't as aware as they wanted us to believe. When I re-read it as an adolescent, it taught me that I wouldn't do much better on the "aware" front, so we all had to help each other.

Every book by Roald Dahl won my heart.

The Rushdie book I read as an adult to a seven-year-old, and it was a joy. Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

The Moominfamily series were another discovery as an adult, and left me wanting more. The translations are excellent. Moominvaley in November is the strangest, bleakest, and most oddly enjoyable childrens' book ever written. A wonderful story of learning to live with each others' quirks and maddening foibles.

Holly

Surely the Alice books are some of the most intricately written (and most disturbing, when you know about their background) books in the English language.
"Will you walk a little faster, said the whiting to the snail?
There's a porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my tail."
Does Pat Buchanon even know the meaning of the word 'whiting'? This book is where I first learned it. Would he get the 'never go anywhere without a porpoise' passage?

Zardeenah

I was such a bookworm as a child; I read all the time. These are the authors I thank:
L Frank Baum for all 14 beautiful books about Oz. Simply written, but beautiful, I learned about fantasy worlds and also life in the early 19th century without knowing it. He had such a gift for describing characters! Although many of my favorites are unknown by most....The glass cat, with lovely pink brains (you can see 'em work), the Woozy, all made of squares and with a terrifying (to himself) roar...
CS Lewis for writing his Christian fantasy series so that anyone could enjoy it. There wasn't a huge amount of kids' fantasy (not like today, at any rate) when I was growing up, and I'm thankful that Lewis's books were so great. He was personable and eloquent, and never talked down to the children reading. The language of 1940's and 50's Britain has really stuck with me "Do come out and make it Pax" "Never shut oneself in a wardrobe" "Hurts like Billy-Oh"
Roald Dahl for his crazy poetry
Beverly Cleary for Ramona and her doll Chevrolet.
And to throw in a new one, read for and with my 6 year old recently, Kate DiCamillo, for Despereaux. A beautiful book, with poetic and precise language, and fantastic characters. I cannot describe my disappointment with that movie!

Dr.Woody

I am of a different generation than many of you. I was read to, and then read by myself many of the classics mentioned above. My favorites were Milne's books: Winnie-ther-Pooh, House At Pooh Corner, Now We Six, and When We Were Very Young. Seuss was a stellar performer, but for sheer delight in words, give me Milne any day.

Of course, I was born in another era, before television, and I learned to read, competently--way past 'Hukt awn Fawnix'--before I ever entered school. I was reading Sherlock Holmes in elementary school. I discovered Kurt Vonnegut while still a pre-teen. We had a tv set by then, but I remained a reader.

Metric

"Real isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you." Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

mjs

"Mean Buchanan" all the children cried
"Be happy!" they beseeched
He dropped his head and muttered:
"Youth is quite beyond my reach..."

++++

Alyson Marrin

I just finished reading Robinson Crusoe to my grade 5/6 class. I had to pause several times a page in the beginning in order to translate some of the unknown (to them in Canada) words and phrases, but by the time we finished it they were eager to hear more "olden books". I plan to read them Treasure Island next year.

tikihoodoo

Winnie-the-Pooh. Definitely Winnie-the-Pooh. Yes, the Disney juggernaut has thoroughly overdone Pooh to the point where he's become a joke, but the original stories are gems. You can enjoy them at any age.

Larry Allen

I too spent the last 20 years re-reading and listening to these in audio form with my son who is now an English major. I also vote for the Wind in the Willows. This passage is about a magical voyage to save a baby otter. The version my son and I listen to was read by Terry Jones from Monty Python. We both went to a book signing of his and got a chance to talk to him about reading it for tape; another magical journey for a young boy.

Slowly, but with no doubt or hesitation whatever, and in something of a solemn expectancy, the two animals passed through the broken tumultuous water and moored their boat at the flowery margin of the island. In silence they landed, and pushed through the blossom and scented herbage and undergrowth that led up to the level ground, till they stood on a little lawn of a marvellous green, set round with Nature's own orchard-trees -- crab-apple, wild cherry, and sloe.

`This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,' whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. `Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!'

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror -- indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy -- but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

`Rat!' he found breath to whisper, shaking. `Are you afraid?'

`Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. `Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!'

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

Sudden and magnificent, the sun's broad golden disc showed itself over the horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level water-meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.

As they stared blankly. in dumb misery deepening as they slowly realised all they had seen and all they had lost, a capricious little breeze, dancing up from the surface of the water, tossed the aspens, shook the dewy roses and blew lightly and caressingly in their faces;
and with its soft touch came instant oblivion. For this is the last best gift that the kindly demi-god is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness. Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and lighthearted as before.

Mole rubbed his eyes and stared at Rat, who was looking about him in a puzzled sort of way. `I beg your pardon; what did you say, Rat?' he asked.

`I think I was only remarking,' said Rat slowly, `that this was the right sort of place, and that here, if anywhere, we should find him. And look! Why, there he is, the little fellow!' And with a cry of delight he ran towards the slumbering Portly.

But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can re-capture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades

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