The Best Books for Baby Showers That No One Else Will Bring

Best Books for Baby Showers

Many new parents are asking that baby shower guests bring a book instead of a card. But how many copies of Goodnight Moon and Pat the Bunny does one person need? Here are some suggestions that will help you choose books that will engage newborn babies, as well as their caregivers.

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Tip #1: Bring a Board Book

Many people gift new parents with the picture books they grew up loving. However, to set yourself apart, bring a board book. These are smaller books printed on heavier, cardboard-like pages. They are good for babies because little ones can grab at them and chew the pages, and not tear the book apart. Many even have rounded edges to prevent baby from hurting themselves.

The best board books, however, are not picture books simply printed on heavier paper. Children under three often do not have the attention span for a long work. Select board books with short, simple text. Babies, after all, do not really read the whole book along with their caregivers, but usually flip the pages out of order and look at the pictures.

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Board Book Recommendations

Dinosaur Dance by Sandra Boynton

Little kids love dinosaurs! And Boynton’s books are perennially popular due to their simple, rhyming text and silly premises!

TouchThinkLearn: Colors by Xavier Deneux

Deneux’s books feature raised images so little ones can learn concepts by using their sense of touch. Look for other books on shapes, letters, numbers, animals, and opposites!

Where Is Baby’s Belly Button? by Karen Katz

This book features flaps so little ones can engage interactively with the story and develop fine motor skills. It will also intrigue babies who like books about other babies.

Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson

Matheson writes lovely interactive books that ask readers to wiggle their fingers, shake the book and more, to make things happen in the text. This one also teaches the life cycle of a seed.

Tip #2: Go High Contrast

High contrast books are often recommended for newborns because their eyesight is still developing. Books in black-and-white with big, bold illustrations will be easier for them to see and encourage them to engage more with the book.

Some caregivers may steer away from high contrast titles because they do not know what to do with a book that simply shows a baby bottle with the word “bottle.” Where is the story, they may wonder. However, newborns are not really reading the book, so it’s okay to point at the picture with baby and discuss it. Caregivers can ask questions like, “What do you see?” “How many butterflies are there?” “What sound does the cat make?” “Does the cow look sad? Do you ever feel sad?” High contrast books can be very engaging if the right questions are asked.

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High Contrast Board Book Recommendations

Black & White by Tana Hoban

This favorite high contrast book pairs simple illustrations with their names. It is most notable for its accordion-style format, which allows caregivers to stand it up so baby can view it. This makes it perfect for tummy time!

Baby Sees First Colors: Black, White, and Red by Akio Kashiwara

This fun title pairs high contrast images with a simple rhyming text. The cover says that red is the next color babies see after black and white, which is how the creators chose the color scheme.

Hello, Bugs by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Emily Bolam

This high contrast book features bold illustrations for 10 different kinds of bugs. Baby will learn about nature while parents will enjoy the splash of color provided by the foil inserts. Also look for Hello, Animals by the same team.

Tip #3 Be Interactive

Everyone loves interactive books! They are also ideal for caregivers not yet sure how to ask questions or get their little ones to engage with a book. Look for titles that ask the reader to do things like shake the book, blow a kiss, or tap the pages. Or select titles that allow little ones to explore the book in a tactile way, perhaps learning about “smooth” and “rough” textures or tracing shapes with their fingers. Or choose a lift-the-flap book, which can be engaging while helping to develop fine motor skills.

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Interactive Board Book Recommendations

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

This lift-the-flap book features a child who writes to the zoo asking for a pet. But the zoo keeps sending completely inappropriate animal choices! Will he ever find his perfect pet? Young readers will enjoy lifting the flaps and guessing the animals.

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

This interactive story is available as a picture book or a board book. It teaches readers the seasons by following a tree though spring, summer, winter, and fall, asking readers to tap the tree, shake it, and even blow a breeze. The simple illustrations will delight readers young and old.

That’s Not My Llama… by Fiona Watt

The Usborn Touchy-Feely books feature a wide range of animals from reindeer to lions to kittens. Each page has a traceable texture so readers can learn concepts like soft, smooth, squishy, and shiny.

Baby Unicorn: Finger Puppet Book by Victoria Ying

Readers can learn about all sorts of animals from koalas to dragons with the baby animal puppet series. The gentle stories typically follow each animal through the day until they safely snuggle up for bed. Little ones will adore the finger puppets placed inside each book.

Tip # 4: Focus on Concepts

Select a book that will teach little ones important concepts in a fun, engaging way! You can focus on colors, shapes, letters, and numbers. Or why not try opposites, emotions, seasons, or the weather? There is a lot to learn when you are brand new to the world, but there are plenty of innovative titles to help caregivers start teaching.

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Concept Board Book Recommendations

You Are Light by Aaron Becker

This unusual book uses die cut images so readers can hold the book up to the light and look at all the colors. The text is a bit longer and abstract, so caregivers might want to adapt it when reading.

Shapes by Xavier Deneux

Deneux has an entire series of sensory books that allow little ones to explore concepts like shapes, colors, numbers, and letters. Each book has raised surfaces so young readers can learn by tracing.

Olivia’s Opposites by Ian Falconer

Fans of Olivia the Pig will delight in this simple board book. Each spread illustrates opposite concepts such as “quiet” and “loud,” all with Falconer’s trademark humor.

What Makes a Rainbow by Betty Schwartz, Dona Turner

Learn about different colors and how rainbows are made with this fun ribbon book! Turn the page to add a new color ribbon until you end with a full rainbow! The text is a bit long, so caregivers may want to adapt it for the littlest readers.

Tip #5: Look at Faces

Babies supposedly like to look at pictures of other babies. Find some books that focus on faces so baby can start to learn how to recognize emotions. Also try to make sure you are picking up titles that feature diverse infants! These books may seem difficult to read for caregivers used to following a story, but, with practice, adults will figure out how to ask questions and model the emotions.

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Board Book Recommendations with Baby Faces

Making Faces by Abrams Appleseed, Molly Magnuson

This concept book focuses on five different emotions. It asks baby to make the same face depicted, then to find the “happy” or “sad” baby. It also includes a mirror for practice!

Global Babies by Global Fund for Children

This is a simple title that includes photographs of babies from around the world!

Baby Faces by Margaret Miller

The book is pretty much what it says– a book full of photos of baby faces

Baby Faces by Dawn Sirett

Another board book with photographs of different babies showing different emotions.

Tip #5: Rhyme, Repeat, and Sing

Rhyming, repetition, and singing help baby learn language skills. Try searching out books that rhyme or have a refrain or predictable catchword, as well as titles than can be sung to familiar children’s tunes. Kids also tend to like silly books, so any titles that have underwear in them, for example, are sure to be a hit.

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Board Books That Rhyme and Repeat

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton

Boynton’s books are widely beloved by children and their caregivers. Most of them rhyme and are just a little bit silly. This one also has the bonus of introducing some farm animals. Barnyard Dance is another Boynton favorite, featuring square dancing animals.

Sign and Sing Along: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by Annie Kubler

Kubler has a line of board books based on classic children’s songs. A few of them, however, are illustrated so that little ones can learn some related sign language along with the song!

Peek-a-Who by Nina Laden

This book rhymes, but also features die cut illustrations that allow little ones to guess the upcoming animals. Interactive books are always sure to please!

Tip #6: Search Out Diversity

It’s important for little ones to be exposed to books with all kinds of people, especially people who may be different from them. So make sure you are selecting books that represent diversity.

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Diverse Board Book Recommendations

Besos for Baby by Jen Arena, Blanca Gomez

This simple book is partly bilingual, repeating the phrase “Besos!” throughout as the child asks for kisses from mami and papi.

Whose Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim, LeUyen Pham

Celebrate a brown baby’s adorable toes in this sweet rhyming text. It also helps babies begin to learn parts of the body. Also look for Whose Knees Are These?

Splash! by Roberta Grobel Intrater

Intrater’s Baby Faces board book series focuses on everyday moments like bath time or peekaboo to engage little ones. The photographs typically feature a diverse array of babies. Also check out Smile!

Tip #7: Be Wary of Board Books Marketed to Adults

Many board boards are marketed more towards adults than children. Board books are generally read to children from 1-3, so you will find titles that include more text and are more complicated than others. However, some really trendy titles reference scientific concepts, books, or historical moments that little ones have no familiarity with, so they may not really be getting much out of them. Make sure the titles you are choosing are age-appropriate and geared towards baby, not their caregivers.

Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Little Lord Fauntelroy Cover


Goodreads: Little Lord Fauntleroy
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1886


Seven-year-old Cedric Errol learns one day that his uncles have died and he is now the heir to the Earl of Dorincourt–all the way in England! His grandfather the earl is really a crotchety old man. But can the new little Lord Fauntleroy’s sweet nature transform him?

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When Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s book Little Lord Fauntleroy was published from 1885-1886, it was an astounding success. The rags-to-riches story of a young boy living in New York who moves to England to be trained as the heir to an earl was indeed so popular that mothers dressed their little boys in the same type of suit worn by Fauntleroy in the novel. However, the sentimental novel has fallen somewhat out of fashion and, these days, most mentions of Burnett associate her with two of her other works: The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Still, Little Lord Fauntleroy has its charms. Readers who enjoy an old-fashioned tale that relies heavily on emotions may find themselves inadvertently drawn into little Cedric’s story, despite their best efforts to be above a book some might call “saccharine.”

Even though the sentimental novel has come in for its fair share of ridicule these days, I must admit that I still love the form. Little Lord Fauntleroy is a very charming example of it. Seven-year-old Cedric Errol is the “perfect” little boy–strong, handsome, and golden-haired, and possessed of the ability to find everyone interesting and to make everyone love him. Through his sheer sweet goodness he manages to transform his crotchety old grandfather from a tyrant earl who thinks only of himself to one who might, one day, actually be beloved by the poor tenants who used to hate and fear him. Simply by seeing goodness in the earl, Cedric puts it there. I understand that many a contemporary reader might find this unbelievable, even if they do not also feel some compulsion to gag over how “goody-goody” Fauntleroy is. But not me. I apparently have the tastes of a nineteenth-century audience.

There is just something incredibly soothing about the story. It feels comforting to read a book where the good and the kind are rewarded, and where even the wicked are capable of redemption. Yes, Burnett preaches a bit here and there, extolling the virtues of her young hero and his sweet, silver-toned mother–the epitome of perfect femininity of her time. But modern books do much the same–we simply have different values that we like to teach our children. And, really, lessons about thinking of others and helping the less fortunate are not to be despised. Why not read an uplifting story where good things happen to good people? Sometimes we all need reassurance that the world is not so bleak, after all.

Little Lord Fauntleroy may admittedly be an acquired taste. I can easily imagine many contemporary readers being turned off by how sweet the titular character is, and how he can do no wrong. To me, however, the book is a comfort read, a safe place to go where rags-to-riches stories are real and kindness really does change the world. It’s a book with a happy ending and that is nothing to sneer at.

4 stars

A Classic Picture Book with Beautiful Illustrations (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks


Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.


Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)


Tell us about a classic picture book you love for the illustrations.

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The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres

I have never actually liked the story of Peter Rabbit. At best, it’s too obviously didactic with its lessons about listening to your mother and being a good little bunny (child), and at worst it’s pretty dark. Mrs. Rabbit flat out says that Mr. Rabbit “had an accident” in Mr. McGregor’s garden and “he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor!” This was nearly traumatizing to me as a young reader, but she throws it out so casually. Oh, don’t go into the garden next door–you might be murdered and eaten! I simply was not a big fan as a child, and rereading the story recently hasn’t suddenly made me think it’s the epitome of children’s literature.

However, my family had this Little Golden Book edition of the story when I was growing up, and the illustrations are adorable! I believe I read the book multiple times simply because the pictures are so cute, while also detailed and rather evocative. Just look at that plump fluffy bunny on the cover, wearing his stylish coat and shoes!

I loved looking at the pictures, and I still think they’re astounding. I still want to just pick up all the bunnies and hug them, and I still love looking at all the details in the background, like the mother mouse with her baby mice in a cradle or all the little furnishings in Peter’s home. I also love the expressions on Peter’s face during his adventures, the single tear on his face when he gets caught in a net in Mr. McGregor’s garden and his anguish when he’s lost and can’t find his way home. The story is often sad and dark, but the illustrator really works with that! You start to feel for Peter, even when he brought all his troubles on himself.

Beatrix Potter I can take or leave as an author in general, but I really do love Cyndy Szekeres’s illustrations for The Tale of Peter Rabbit!


Dewdrop by Katie O’Neill

Dewdrop by Katie O'Neill


Goodreads: Dewdrop
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: April 2020


The pond’s annual Sports Fair is arriving and Dewdrop the axolotl is ready to cheer on his friends! Mia the turtle worries she cannot compete with the stronger athletes, Newman the newt experiences writer’s block for his new song, and three minnows fear that their cooking will not be special enough for the attendees. With Dewdrop’s support and encouragement, however, they will learn to relax, trust in themselves, and simply try to do their best–no matter what anyone else may be doing. An inspirational tale from the author of The Tea Dragon Society.

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Katie O’Neill’s latest graphic novel, this one for young children, is a heartwarming story about believing in yourself and doing your best. The action is minimal, focusing on three sets of characters who begin to doubt that their talents are good enough for the annual pond sports fair. However, Dewdrop the axolotl reminds each of his friends what is truly important. The story is one that, quite simply, will make readers feel good–and it does not hurt that the illustrations are adorable.

Though Dewdrop is written for a younger audience, it is the type of story that will appeal to many age ranges–perhaps in part because it is just too cute for words. For example, I can easily imagine the people who like to read manga featuring kittens gravitating towards this book. And, of course, those who enjoyed the sweet lessons of O’Neill’s previous books, such as The Tea Dragon Society and Aquicorn Cove will want just about anything she writes.

The message, too, is a welcome one, especially now, as it focuses on positive things readers can control. It reminds them that they do not need to be in competition with others, nor do they need to please everyone. Focusing on doing one’s personal best and doing things that make one happy are manageable goals anyone can work towards.

Dewdrop is an adorable read that will appeal to young readers with is cute protagonists, bright colors, and uplifting story. However, really, it is a book for all ages. And I hope there is a sequel.

5 stars

The Sword and the Circle by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Sword and the Circle by Sutclff cover


Goodreads: The Sword and the Circle
Series: Legends of King Arthur #1
Source: Library
Published: 1981


The first in a trilogy retelling the story of King Arthur and his knights. Includes the story of Arthur’s birth, the pulling of the sword from the stone, the tale of Gawain and the Green Knight, and more.

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Rosemary Sutfcliff writes her retelling of the story of King Arthur with a brevity of style that simultaneously works well for a children’s story and to add an understated depth to her material. She moves effortlessly from depictions of daring deeds and gallant knighthood to statements of the dark deeds that ultimately drive the story: Uther Pendragon’s deception, King Mark’s jealousy, Morgan le Fey’s treachery, Lancelot’s betrayal. Nobility and shame sit side by side, mixing to create a tale that both enchants and repels.

Of course, Sutcliff is drawing here upon rich source material. And it is not necessarily her skill that makes the story of King Arthur so rich and so wonderful. Sutcliff’s feat here lies in adapting that source material for a younger audience in a way that does not feel condescending. She chooses stories that highlight the choices of the knights in their youth, perhaps making their tales resonate more with the youth who will read them. And she takes care to use a writing style that has some gravity to it, but that still feels accessible. One can believe that some modern readers will be more likely to pick up and finish her volume than Le Morte D’Arthur.

Also interesting are what appear to Sutcliff’s additions to the story. Here, for instance, Sir Lancelot is a ugly-looking fellow, a knight at first notable mainly for his hideous visage. Eventually, however, Lancelot becomes known for his knightly behavior and his prowess. Mentions of his appearance become less frequent, as if to mirror the way in which the court may now view him: as a fearless knight and not simply an ugly lad. And it speaks volumes that the beautiful queen herself can fall in love with him. Looks are not everything, after all.

Fans of Sutcliff’s historical fiction will, of course, wish to check out her take on the King Arthur story. But readers looking for an accessible introduction to King Arthur may also appreciate her work. It helps that this is the first of three volumes. Readers will be less intimidated by the size of the story, and can easily stop after one volume if they feel sufficiently immersed in the medieval saga (or if they are simply looking to avoid the necessarily depressing end of the tale). The Sword and the Circle is a highly readable retelling, one told with respect and skill.

4 stars

The Brontës: Children of the Moors by Mick Manning and Brita Granström

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
     And carried aloft on the winds of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
     Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

” Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day ” by Anne Brontë


Goodreads: The Brontes: Children of the Moors
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2016


This picture book biography tells the story of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë’s lives from the perspective of Charlotte.

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Like many works focused on the Brontë siblings, this one is told from the perspective of Charlotte, who lived longest and thus not only published more, but was also able to influence her sisters’ reputations after their deaths. Additionally, she left behind a wealth of letters and diaries, allowing biographers to quote her directly. Attempts to uncover Anne’s interior life necessitate more conjecture. Even so, the work is a beautiful introduction to the lives and work of the Brontës, combining quotes, images, and biography to tell their story in an engrossing manner.

The format of The Brontës: Children of the Moors may aptly be described as busy. Each spread typically includes a two-page illustration (drawn on site, according to the end notes), along with a quote by Charlotte in one corner and more text expanding on Charlotte’s words in another. The result is that sometimes the text can seem repetitive; readers read again what Charlotte just said, but in more detail. Or it can seem hard to follow. Should one begin with Charlotte’s words, with the picture, perhaps with a side panel showcasing the flora or fauna of the moors? However, I think young readers will delight in the busyness, in always finding something new to find on the page, in having to work to put together text, quote, and image. It makes the reading experience feel, somehow, more active, more participatory.

Being written for children, the text does smoothly gloss over moments like Branwell’s adulterous relationship with his employer’s wife and his descent into addiction, as well as Charlotte’s unrequited love for her Belgian professor. Sometimes the moments are made to sound more tame (ex. Branwell “flirted”). Sometimes they are mentioned, but not really elaborated upon. Ultimately, the biography comes across as truthful, but age-appropriate.

The Brontës: Children of the Moors is a wonderful introduction to the life and work of the Brontë siblings. It packs a lot of information into a small amount of space, resulting in that rare picture book biography that feels complete, but also supremely readable. Definitely worth a look for any Brontë fans.

4 stars

Karen’s Witch by Katy Farina, Ann M. Martin

Karen's Witch graphic novel


Goodreads:Karen’s Witch
Series: Babysitters Little Sisters Graphic Novels #1
Source: Library
Published: Dec. 26, 2019


Karen is Kristy’s six-year-old stepsister. She loves her two families. But, when she visits her dad, she’s scared of the neighbor. Kristy says she’s just Mrs. Porter, a woman who likes to garden. But Karen knows she’s really a witch. And she’s going to prove it.

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The success of the graphic novel adaptations of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitters Club series clearly inspired this new spin-off series, focused on Kristy’s six-year-old stepsister. The story is engaging enough, but, ultimately there seems to be a disconnect between the book and its possible intended audience. Will the tween readers of the Babysitters Club want to read a simplified story about a six-year-old?

Although one assumes that Karen’s Witch was released to profit off the built-in audience of the Babysitters Club books, the presentation of the story suggests that perhaps it is actually intended for a new, younger audience. The story is fairly straight-forward: Karen believes her neighbor is a witch and she wants to prove it to her family. She does a lot of spying before heading over for the final confrontation. There are no surprises here and not much happens, plot-wise. It is unclear whether younger readers are supposed to be in suspense over the possibility of Karen getting bespelled by her neighbor, or if older readers are supposed to be amused by Karen’s overactive imagination.

In addition to the simple storyline, the illustrations also seem intended for a younger audience. They are bright and colorful, and feature cutesy characters with overly large eyes. Karen’s head, too, often seems disproportionately large, which makes her resemble a bobble-head doll. The simple, cartoon lines of the illustrations remind me of Ben Claton’s Narwhal and Jelly books, written for beginning readers.

I cannot help but wonder if the ambiguous nature of this series will mean it will not achieve the popularity of the Babysitters Club. The quote from Gale Galligan on the back makes it seem like readers of the Babysitters Club series are supposed to read this series, too, but it is hard to imagine middle schoolers wanting to pick up the book. However, I have noticed that younger readers do not often look at graphic novels in the public library, perhaps because they or their parents are unaware that there are some beginner reader options.

I imagine this series will best be promoted in a classroom or a school library, where teachers and librarians can recommend it to elementary school students. Nostalgic adults may also purchase it to share with the children in their lives. A second grade audience seems about right for it, keeping in mind that, though it is long, it is mostly pictures with small text bubbles with simple sentences. It is a good beginner graphic novel, but I think audiences expecting it to be for tween fans of the Babysitters Club graphic novels may be disappointed.

3 Stars

Finding Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis and His Brother by Caroline McAlister, Illustrated by Jessica Lanan


Goodreads: Finding Narnia
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: November 2019


Caroline McAlister follows Jack and Warnie Lewis from boyhood to the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in this picture book biography.

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Finding Narnia proves a lackluster picture book biography, so focused on simplifying matters for children that it loses its heart in the process. Caroline McAlister seeks to move from Jack and Warnie’s boyhoods up to the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but, rather than focusing on concrete details, attempts to write a thematic work tied together by the concept of Jack and Warnie’s differences, and Jack’s longing to find out “What if?” The result is that the book provides neither enough biographical meat to feel like real biography, nor enough emotional resonance to feel like inspirational. The biographical end note is more effective at bringing Jack to life than the picture book text.

Writing a picture book biography is no small feat, as a lifetime must be condensed into only a couple hundred words. Caroline McAlister attempts to do this by trying to give readers a “feeling” for who Jack and Warnie were instead of fitting in as many facts of possible. Jack likes stories. Warnie likes technology. Jack likes knights. Warnie like trains. Jack likes a world of talking animals. Warnie likes India in the real world. Unfortunately, it feels like this contrast (perhaps oversimplified for drama), comes sometimes at the expense of biographical fact. Moments like Mrs. Lewis’s death and WWI are glossed over, creating a lack of emotion in the book. A writer usually cannot dismiss WWI in three sentences and still have readers understand how such an event impacted the characters. Without this understanding, it is hard for readers to feel why Jack’s question of “What if?” was so important to him.

The ending of the book regrettably does nothing to leave the readers with a a lasting impact. Instead, it just tapers off into a vague summary of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in a bid to appeal to avid fans and the sense of wonder that Lewis’s world creates. Needless to say, this ending will probably be less meaningful to those discovering Lewis for the first time through the book. And it will probably confuse children expecting some sort of conclusive ending.

The illustrations in Finding Narnia are nice. They are serviceable. But they are not memorable and they do not save the book from feeling underwhelming. They are, however, apparently well-researched, based on the number of end notes provided to explain the details readers may have missed.

One begins to regret that all the research done for the book does not seem immediately obvious, due to McAlister’s struggle to write a successful picture book. She is far more engaging writing the lengthy biography at the end of the book and it seems clear that her love for C. S. Lewis would probably have been better used if she had written a book for older readers. Still, fans of the Inklings often tend to like things just because the Inklings are mentioned in them, and I suspect some fans will just be cheered to see any picture book featuring Jack and Warnie.

2 star review

Nancy Drew Comparison Review: The Secret of Shadow Ranch

Secret at Shadow Ranch

The Secret at Shadow Ranch, fifth in the Nancy Drew series, was originally published in 1931.  In 1965, the book was revised as The Secret of Shadow Ranch, resulting in an entirely new plotline (unlike other revisions, such as the 1974 revision of The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, which retained most of the plot, but in a streamlined version).  The original versions  of the Nancy Drew series were later re-released in the 1990s with an explanatory note acknowledging the ugly parts of the stories, which are, the note says, a part of history that needs to be confronted.  These reissues make it possible to compare the original stories with the revised editions.

Spoilers for the plots of both books ahead!

The Secret at Shadow Ranch (1931) is perhaps most immediately notable for its slower-paced plot.  The 1965 version has Nancy arriving in Arizona to meet George and Bess for a visit to their aunt and uncle’s ranch, only to be told that she must leave at once, for someone is trying to sabotage Shadow Ranch.  An encounter with a strange man who leaves threatening notes and a near-death experience in the desert follow.  In contrast, the 1931 version has Nancy traveling with Eizabeth “Bess” Marvin and George Fayne to meet their Aunt Nell and cousin Alice Regor before they arrive at the ranch, which Aunt Nell will likely sell.  Alice desires to speak with Nancy about her father’s disappearance eight years ago (in the revised version, he disappeared only six months earlier), but otherwise, there is no mystery to be solved.  It takes four chapters just for Nancy to arrive at Shadow Ranch and, even then, she and her friends are mostly concerned with taking trips out into the wild, not with saving the ranch.

These trips into the wild provide most of the excitement in The Secret at Shadow Ranch and, ultimately, lead to the mystery Nancy tries to solve–the mystery of why beautiful child Lucy Brown lives with abusive squatter Martha Frank. The child abuse depicted–Lucy is penned up, dressed in rags, given little food, and even beaten with a stick (depicted on the cover–is removed to sanitize the later version.  Also removed are the instances of Nancy shooting at wildlife to save herself and her friends.  She shoots at rattle snack and, at one point, she kills a lynx!  The foreword by Mildred Wirt Benson explains that the 1930s were less concerned with violence against animals, so a scene thought okay for children then later had to be excised.

Also notable in the 1931 is a lack of handsome young men and love interests. In The Secret of Shadow Ranch, young cowboy Dave Gregory clearly has a crush on Nancy, while George and Bess go out to a dance with handsome Shadow Ranch cowboys Tex Britten and Bud Moore.  But, in The Secret at Shadow Ranch, there are no young cowboys on the ranch.  Nancy later meets a young doctor who has an interest in her–and who proves useful when Lucy is injured–but the romance is much less prominent.  Indeed, another love interest for Bess seems inserted mainly because he is an attorney. In both cases, the men are added to the storymainly because they can help Nancy solve the mystery.

The plot for The Secret of Shadow Ranch, which may be familiar to many as the basis for the Nancy Drew PC game, was almost entirely rewritten in the 1960s.  The glowing horse, the tragic love story between an outlaw and a lawman’s daughter, a hidden treasure, and the Indian cliffs were all added.  The main connecting point is Alice’s father, though the reason for his disappearance is different in both books.

The reasons for revision seem mainly to add a more defined mystery and more romance, while removing the depictions of violence present in the original story.  However, even though the 1931 version has a less present mystery, it does depict a more active and assertive Nancy–one who can shoot lynxes and even punch a would-be captor in the face.  Later versions of Nancy tend to show her as capable and competent, but more prone to capture because less able to fight back.  Her physical skills in later version are extensive and superior, but typically non-violent.  She can swim, scuba dive, ride a horse, and more–but she’s too much of a lady to know hand-to-hand combat.  It is a shame that that the revisions that sought to improve Nancy Drew also had to refine and “feminize” her more–there’s a bit of sexism that still overshadows the character who became a feminist icon.

Nancy Drew Comparison Review: Mystery of the Ivory Charm

Mystery of the Ivory Charm

The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, number 13 in the Nancy Drew series, was originally published in 1936.  In 1974, the book was revised and republished both to streamline the plot and to remove some of the more overt racism. The original versions  of the Nancy Drew series were later re-released in the 1990s with an explanatory note acknowledging the ugly parts of the stories, which are, the note says, a part of history that needs to be confronted.  These reissues make it possible to compare the original stories with the revised editions.

The Mystery of the Ivory Charm centers around Rishi (1974)/Coya (1936), an Indian boy who forms part of a visiting circus.  Mistreated by his so-called father Rai, Rishi/Coya ends up under the protection of Nancy, who attempts to trace his real parentage and discover why Rai has been keeping him.  Her investigations lead her to uncover an international plot, ultimately putting her life at risk.

Spoilers for the plots of both books ahead!

The general plot of both books remains the same, though the 1974 version notably cuts out any material not directly related to forwarding the action, while also adding in a subplot to give the story a somewhat happier ending.  This means that scenes such as Nancy going to D.C. to seek help and getting to meet the First Lady are removed in the 1974 version.  However, even when scenes remain almost exactly the same, all description is cut, leading to more concise scenes focused almost exclusively on dialogue and action.  At times, dialogue is attributed to a different character in the 1974 version.  This may be because a character like Ned has been deleted as extraneous in some scenes, but, occasionally, all characters remain the same, but the dialogue tags are switched, especially between Bess and George.

The 1974 version of The Mystery of the Ivory Charm also notably attempts to soften or sanitize the story.  For instance, in the 1936 version, Rai uses a whip on Coya and he abuses the circus elephant.  In the 1974 version, Rai merely threatens to use a whip on Rishi, but Nancy prevents him; he does not hurt the elephant. The 1936 version also has some more action with Nancy almost getting trampled by stampeding elephants and later having to brave a herd of cows.

The protagonists are nicer in the 1974 story, as well.  The 1936 version has a more racist Hannah Gruen, who refuses to raise a “brown-skinned boy” and who keeps on about making sure he does not shirk his chores.  Ned speaks sharply in the original version, yelling, “Scram!”  And Coya, in the 1936 version, breaks into a house.  These occurrences are later removed.

The 1974 Mystery of the Ivory Charm unfortunately fails, however, to remove all the racism from the story.  Through more obvious instances are excised (see: Hannah Gruen), India is still exoticized and the protagonists see it as a fascinating, yet somewhat barbaric place where the natives marry as young as 16 (age 14 in the 1936 version). The Mystery of the Ivory Charm is, even after revision, one of the more racist books in the Nancy Drew series.

The final notable difference between the two versions is the discovery of Rishi’s father in the 1974 revision. In the 1936 edition, Coya’s father is dead, and he needs a guardian to return to India and take up his inheritance.  This change gives the 1974 story a far happier ending.

The Nancy Drew books remain astonishingly popular, even 80 years after their first appearance.  The racism remaining even in  the revised The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, however, makes this one of the more uncomfortable books in the series, and not necessarily a good place for new readers to start.  Even Nancy Drew fans may find this one difficult to read.

Book Source: Library