Alongside all the modern classics, and mainly due to an embarrassingly out of control charity shop rummaging habit, our family has amassed a pile of old school kid’s books. Give me a bright retro cover, tales of wholesome outdoor adventures and the occasional mention of Dick and Fanny for the princely sum of 25p and I’m a happy woman.
When my elder daughter turned five, we decided to try chapter books to see if they could hold her interest and encourage her to read, but also to protect our own mental health when faced with re-reading a favourite picture book for the 200th time.
We chose to start with the classic Faraway Tree trilogy and whilst I was a bit worried that my rose-tinted nostalgia wouldn’t translate, they have absolutely loved them. Like most kids, they thrive on familiarity and routine, and have genuinely enjoyed sitting down with the same book every night. This has proved to be the joy of these books: most smaller stories are contained within two to three chapters which can be read over a night or two, yet they all weave back into an overarching narrative within the three books.
In a nutshell, a family moves to a new house near an enchanted wood, where the kids soon discover The Faraway Tree; whose branches house a host of fairy tale creatures and the top of which holds a ladder that reaches into the clouds. Various magical lands visit the top of the ladder – some captivating, some a little scary – but all thrilling to both the kids in the story and those you are reading to. Who wouldn’t want to hear about the Land of Goodies or Do-As-You-Please?
We have been reading copies that were originally published in 1971 which have provided some very childish moments for the adults as we followed the exploits of Dick in particular – you may prefer later versions where Dick & Fanny have been replaced by the more ‘contemporary’ Rick & Frannie and some of the ‘fighting’ has been removed. References to Mr Whatzisname pummelling goblins ‘as if he were beating carpets’, for example, are deemed too violent for the youth of today.
Overall, although some of the language and ideas now seem a little archaic, the Faraway Tree Trilogy promotes kindness, politeness and friendship combined with a good dollop of nostalgia, adventure and fairy dust. I’d happily come home with a few of those from the Land of Take-What-You-Want.