Are your kids hooked on Harry? Do they need something else to whet their reading whistles? Then it's high time to introduce them to the book that was a publishing sensation 100 years ago. That honor belongs to none other than The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the best-selling children's book of 1900.
Sure, your brood has probably seen the movie, but the book is a different story. In fact, author L. Frank Baum eventually wrote 14 books about his magical kingdom.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published - after many rejections - as a modern fairy tale. Baum found a publisher only after he and his illustrator agreed to pay the publishing expenses.
To celebrate the centennial, publishers have issued a number of new editions of Oz, so grab your silver shoes (they're silver in the book, not ruby, like those Judy Garland wore) and dig in.
Start with the 100th Anniversary edition of The Wizard of Oz with superb illustrations by Michael Hague plus the complete original text. The price tag isn't cheap, but this is a top-notch edition with thick, quality pages, clean, large type and plenty of Hague's color illustrations.
The art is fresh, yet faithful to the story and the style of the original illustrations, which were done by William Wallace Denslow. Dorothy looks real; Toto is appropriately cute; the Scarecrow has warmly appealing features; the Tin Man looks stately and shiny, while the Lion is ferociously cuddly. As for the Wicked Witch of the West, she is horrid, old and mean - just right.
My six-year-old son was immediately drawn into this book and remained enchanted as we read a few chapters each night. (The Wicked Witch and the Flying Monkeys aren't nearly so scary in the book as they are in the MGM movie, so there's less to fear about nightmares.)
Another good 100th anniversary edition is a lengthy (96 pages) yet condensed version of The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Charles Santore. Here are eye-catching illustrations done in a more modern, action-packed style, a feeling even more pronounced by the larger format of this book.
Oz authority Michael Patrick Hearn writes in a short introduction: "Charles Santore has interpreted the story as a grand opera. Never has the Kansas cyclone seemed more threatening, the Land of the Munchkins more enchanting, the forests of Oz more foreboding, the Deadly Poppy Field deadlier or the Emerald City more magnificent than in his watercolors."
For those truly engrossed in Oz, try the Oz Box Set, a set of three paperbacks that includes the original text and illustrations for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz.
Although this boxed set has no color illustrations, the original artwork of Denslow (for the first book) and John R. Neill (for the second and third) is plentiful and lively, giving readers an interesting historical perspective. And any child who enjoys the first story will want to jump right into these subsequent adventures.
For a unique Oz experience, don't miss the commemorative pop-up edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with art by Robert Sabuda. Sabuda's magical pop-ups spring to life with shiny foil, and even include magical spectacles provided for viewing the Emerald City. While the text is quite condensed, this is a dynamic introduction for young children and just plain fun for fans of any age.
Finally, true aficionados can turn to something new, a book called The Green Star of Oz. This one's written by Baum's great-grandson, Roger S. Baum, and features a leather finish and color illustrations by Victoria Seitzinger.
The tale begins with L. Frank Baum and his wife at their home, surrounded by a group of children as Baum wonders what the world and Oz will be like 100 years from now. The group is soon transported to Oz, where they encounter Dorothy, an ill Toto and plenty of familiar faces.
Oz is one of the most beloved children's tales of all time, so be sure you and your family don't miss out on a wonderful trip down the Yellow Brick Road.
Alice Cary writes from her home in Groton, Massachusetts. Copyright 2000 BookPage Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2001 Spring
In celebration of the one-hundredth birthday of Baum's landmark novel, Santore's oversized picture book, which includes an introduction by Michael Patrick Hearne, has been reissued. Expansive illustrations, bursting with color, depict Dorothy's adventures in the Land of Oz. The abridged text, which has been expertly condensed, retains Baum's original wording. Copyright 2001 Horn Book Guide Reviews