STEVE INSKEEP, host:
One of our favorite librarians is back this morning with another stack of books. Nancy Pearl has given us recommendations for reading everything from spy novels to micro-histories, and today she's tackling the magical world of children's make-believe.
Ms. NANCY PEARL (Librarian): These are great children's fantasy, but they're great books for the family to read aloud. And I think that it's a shame for people to stop reading to their children once their children learn how to read. And it's a wonderful kind of family activity.
INSKEEP: Why present this list of books now?
Ms. PEARL: Now I know, Steve, that you are not one of the 10 million people who are waiting with bated breath for July 16th. There are going to be people in line at midnight on July 15th waiting...
INSKEEP: Independence Day of some country in Asia--I can't remember which one. Oh, no, no, no. Wait, it's something else, isn't it?
Ms. PEARL: France. The new "Harry Potter" is coming out.
INSKEEP: Oh, that as well.
Ms. PEARL: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." And what do you do between now and the new "Harry Potter," besides re-reading all the "Harry Potter" books? But let's explore the wonderful world of children's fantasy.
INSKEEP: And I suppose for those of us who are skeptical of any gigantic mass-marketing phenomenon, this is--you could also look at this as an alternative to "Harry Potter."
Ms. PEARL: Yes, you could, and I expect you to, Steve.
INSKEEP: Let's go right to it then.
Ms. PEARL: OK.
INSKEEP: Let's start here. This is a book called "Five Children and It" at the top of the stack you've arranged for us to get. The author is E. Nesbit.
Ms. PEARL: E. Nesbit is really the one whom we should credit with the whole beginning of the whole children's fantasy movement. Even though "Five Children and It" was published originally in 1902, it's still in print and still delightful to read.
INSKEEP: Since some children's books are about magic and sorcery and that sort of thing, I mean, they don't go out of date, I suppose.
Ms. PEARL: Yes. They don't. Now I have to say that there are some parts in "Five Children and It" that may seem a bit dated, but I think that--I mean, they travel by cart, for example. But they don't go out of date. And Edward Eager, whose books were published in the 1950s, and his first novel, "Half Magic"--I mean, he owes so much to E. Nesbit. This is about a group of children, a family, four kids who are coming home from the library--always dear to my heart--and they pick up--one of them picks up what they think is a nickel. And as they're walking home, they're bemoaning the fact that it's summer, all their friends are gone and the one holding that nickel-looking-like thing says, `Oh, I wish our friends were here.' And what they learn when they get home is that their friends have all disappeared from the camps where they were, but they're all halfway home. So that--and they have to come to understand that what they've found is a magic thing that grants you half your wish. So you have to figure out how best to get exactly what your wish is.
INSKEEP: I wish my friends were 20 miles on the other side of us.
Ms. PEARL: That's right.
INSKEEP: Perhaps we could spend our nickel in "The Phantom Tollbooth," which is the name of the next book in our stack here by Norton Juster.
Ms. PEARL: "The Phantom Tollbooth" is one of the classics in this field of children's fantasy. It's about a little boy named Milo who is very bored with the world and can't find quite anything to do. And in his bedroom appears a toll booth and a car and the nickel with which to use it to go on this trip. So Milo sets off and is immediately immersed in many, many adventures. The great part about Norman Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth" is that kids love it, but it is so much fun to read out loud.
INSKEEP: When did you last read this book?
Ms. PEARL: Oh, I last read this book last week.
INSKEEP: Last week? You have no trouble going into children's literature, reading it straight through again?
Ms. PEARL: No, not these. These--especially a book like "The Phantom Tollbooth" or "Gregor the Overlander," which is another great example of a wonderful, newish children's fantasy, came out last year.
INSKEEP: I'm looking at a summary of "Gregor the Overlander"...
Ms. PEARL: Yes.
INSKEEP: ...which begins with the question, `What if Alice fell down an air vent in a New York City apartment building instead of down a rabbit hole?'
Ms. PEARL: "Gregor the Overlander" is the story of a very brave 11-year-old boy named Gregor. And he is looking forward to a very boring summer living in a not-very-upscale New York apartment building. He is in the basement in the laundry room with his two-year-old sister Boots,and Boots falls through an air vent, and Gregor follows after her and they both end up in a place called the Underland, where there is a horrific war going on. But he has to make some very, very hard decisions. He has to figure out who to trust. He has to find Boots, and when I finished this book, I wanted to just say, `Go, Gregor.'
INSKEEP: "Gregor the Overlander" by Suzanne Collins.
Ms. PEARL: Yeah.
INSKEEP: There's a book on your list. And we have another one here, "Whales on Stilts" by M.T. Anderson.
Ms. PEARL: This is a book that you cannot read without a lot of chortling. This is about a 12-year-old girl named Lily Gefelty, who lives in a small town named Pelt, and she discovers that her father works for a man--well, we think he's a--first he's a man--who wants to take over the world. It turns out that her father's boss is actually a cetacean, a whale, and he is using this abandoned factory to set up this great plan for the whales to take over the world. Now the only people who can prevent this from happening are Lily, who is just this ordinary girl, not particularly--she doesn't think very much of herself, but she has two friends who can--she hopes will help her do this. Now the great thing about this is that the adults in this book, particularly Lily's father, are totally impervious to all of these hints that the world is about to be taken over by these blue whales. I mean, you cannot look at the cover of "Whales on Stilts" without wanting to pick up the book and read it.
INSKEEP: How would you recommend that parents go about interacting with their kids with these books? That's always a delicate thing. You recommend the book that's going to be the thing the kid doesn't read.
Ms. PEARL: Well, I think that what parents should do is with books like "Whales on Stilts" and "The Phantom Tollbooth," for example, is that they say, `Let's read this together.' And I think what will happen in reading the first chapter aloud, I can practically guarantee that the child will take the book and go off and finish it on their own because they won't want to wait till tomorrow night when you're going to read the next chapter of it.
INSKEEP: Satisfaction guaranteed, you're saying.
Ms. PEARL: I--write me and I'll give you another book suggestion if this doesn't work.
INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl, thanks very much for coming by once again.
Ms. PEARL: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is the author of "Book Lust," and now "More Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason." For a complete list of Nancy's fantasy favorites, visit our Web site at npr.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
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