“Oh…” She sat and munched on her sandwich for a bit thinking. “Well, ok, what I think we should do is, you need to find a new author and a new illustrator to make us some more Oz books. Can you get a hold of someone and tell them to do that for me?” Mind you, at the time she was four years old, so this line of reasoning rather amused me.
My daughter is certainly not the first one to come up with the brilliant idea of continuing on with the Oz books. Since L. Frank Baum passed away in 1919 there have been a long string a replacement authors, from John R. Neill (the illustrator from the original series, turned his hand to writing) to Roger S. Baum (L. Frank Baum’s Great-Grandson) and James Howe (the fellow who wrote the Bunnicula books), along with dozens of others.
On our first go through the series, upon finishing the final Oz book I downloaded a free pdf version of the fifteenth book, The Royal Book of Oz. While Baum’s name in on the cover, this was published after his death and was actually written by Ruth Plumly Thompson. The book is incredibly dated, and racial stereotyping (of oriental characters) and the concept of slavery play heavily into the storyline. Reading it to G made me very uncomfortable. I found myself editing out bits. Much that was left was pun-based humour, or very out-dated humour based again on racial prejudices. Basically, it flew right over her head. It was a lousy book to share with a four year old.
On the other hand, one of my favourite books that I remember from when I was young is one that my mother read to me Merry Go Round in Oz, another of the post-L Frank Baum Oz books. Actually Merry Go Round in Oz, which came out in 1963, was the fortieth book in the Oz series, and the last “official” Oz book to be published by Reilly & Lee. This should give you some idea of the amount of options out there; forty books in the “official” series from the original publisher, and then dozens of offshoots, published by other publishing houses, not to mention the countless retelling, comic book adaptations, etc.
The original Oz series, by which I mean the first fourteen books which were written by L Frank Baum, are true classics. They aren’t stale or outdated. Baum occasionally takes for granted and makes light mention of a some things such as slavery or whipping which might offend modern sensibilities, and there are a few words or concepts here and there which I needed to take time to explain to my daughter (The talking Victrola in The Patchwork Girl of Oz was somewhat mystifying to her), but overall these books stand the test of time.
Basically what I’m saying is, that while I wholeheartedly recommend reading the original Oz series to your children, the books written by Baum’s successors are a mixed bag. Some great, some mediocre, and some rather wretched. So what’s a mom to an Oz loving kid to do?
For one thing the majority of these later Oz books are not currently in print, so if you want to read them you need to hunt down used copies, and in this case used doesn’t necessarily equate to cheap. A “cheap” copy of that Merry Go Round in Oz book which I so fondly remember borrowing from the local library as a kid will cost you $50-$70. And that’s a steal, as I’ve seen the book priced at $200-$300 or more, depending on the printing, condition, etc.
If you have an e-reader, or an i-Pod or the like, downloading ebooks or pdf’s is the way to go. I am normally all about dead-tree books, but cheap (and even free!) pdf’s of these rare, hard to find, and oft-times expensive books, are making an e-reader convert out of me.
First, if you haven’t read the complete original series with your little one, I totally recommend it. We began reading the Oz books at bedtime each night when my daughter was three years old. I worried she might be too young, but she really enjoyed it. Though she’s probably understanding more on this second go through the series and I really feel that four or five years of age is the perfect time to embark on a journey to Oz. The original L. Frank Baum series is readily available in both print and pdf formats. Because the copyright on the original series has expired, the first fourteen titles are available for free to download from Project Gutenberg, or via the iTunes app store.
If you’ve finished reading the original fourteen Oz books, here’s what I suggest:
- Download the free pdf of Little Wizard Stories of Oz from Project Gutenberg. This is a book of short stories set in Oz, written by L. Frank Baum. It’s a lovely pdf, which includes the original full colour illustrations.(This is also currently available in print).
- Try some of L. Frank Baum’s other children books. I particularly recommend Queen Zixi of Ix.
- Download free or cheap pdfs of the later non-Baum Oz books. Based on my experiences with reading The Royal Book of Oz to my daughter, I suggest pre-reading to see if they fit modern sensibilities.
I’m creating a list of the books that are considered part of the Oz canon, and are consistent with the original L Frank Baum series. I’m noting whether each book is currently available in print. I’ve been hunting down the best electronic copies available, by which I mean the cheapest (preferably free), and also ones that includes the original illustrations. It’s my intention to pre-read each one, and mark off whether it’s suitable for young children to read. If not, I plant to note why I felt it wasn’t suitable. It’s a work in progress, but you can view my full Post-Baum Oz reading list here. (And if you’ve read any of these later works I would love your opinion on how kid-friendly they are!)
Since the Baum Oz books are in public domain, folks can legally write and publish fiction featuring characters appearing in them. There are well over two hundred other non-canon Oz books out there, books that try and follow in the footsteps of the original series but don’t bother to maintain the proper timeline or events, or books that use the original series as a spring-board for their own twist on Oz (like say Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series). Some of these books are written for kids, some are intended for adults (again think of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series as an example). Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of the non-canonical or apocrypha books of Oz.
Some other links you might want to check out:
I’d love to have you join us on our journey to Oz. Did you love the original series as a kid? Enjoy reading it to your little ones? Have you read any of the many spin-off books out there? Which did you think was the best of the lot?
Be sure to check out my What Comes After The Wizard? Post-Baum Reading List and chime in on which you love (or loathe)!