by Debbie Urbanski
Ozma of Oz
by L. Frank Baum
272 pages / $6.95 buy from Amazon
1. This past year, my 5-year-old has been obsessed with me reading The Wizard of Oz to her over and over and over. While I have loved that book for decades, I reveal to her it is a series – there are more!
2. So we begin book two in the Oz series, The Marvelous Land of Oz. Which turns out to not be marvelous. “Where is Dorothy?” my daughter asks. In fact, Dorothy is nowhere to be found. Instead of Dorothy, there is a sorceress who is trying to force her ward Tip to drink a potion that will turn him into a statue. The sorceress is kind of scary.
3. Though the sorceress is not why we stop reading the book.
4. We stop reading when the ridiculous all-girl Army of Revolt storms the Emerald City, making the men mind the children and do the housework, only to get scared off by mice.
5. We move onto Treasure Island which I realize, early on, is not appropriate for a 5-year-old because of large quantities of murder and rum, finally settling upon Pippi Longstocking which, despite the heroine’s coffee habit and dead parents, appears a good fit. Then it is back to The Wizard of Oz.
6. Then instead of rereading The Wizard of Oz again, I suggest why don’t we try book three in the series (Ozma of Oz). The book is #83 on the School Library Journal’s list of the best children’s novels ever. Unsurprisingly, The Marvelous Land of Oz is not on the list. Still, I am nervous, making my daughter nervous. Reading bad books is an awful experience, but reading bad books aloud to your child is much worse, as it takes longer and skimming is difficult to do.
7. In the case of Ozma of Oz, There was no need to be nervous. It turns out I love this book. I have loved this book. This is the book with the lunch-box tree. “The tree seemed to bear all the year around, for there were lunch-box blossoms on some of the branches, and on others tiny little lunch-boxes that were as yet quite green, and evidently not fit to eat until they had brown bigger. The leaves of this tree were all paper napkins, and it presented a very pleasing appearance to the hungry little girl.” Inside the lunch-box was, “nicely wrapped in white papers, a ham sandwich, a piece of sponge-cake, a pickle, a slice of new cheese and an apple. Each thing had a separate stem, and so had to be picked off the side of the box…”
8. But the tin dinner-pail tree is even better. The dinner-pails grew on another tree and inside each pail was a thermos of lemonade, plus “three slices of turkey, two slices of cold tongue, some lobster salad, four slices of bread and butter, a small custard pie, an orange and nine large strawberries, and some nuts and raisins. Singularly enough, the nuts in this dinner-pail grew already cracked, so that Dorothy had no trouble in picking out their meats to eat.” I remember these trees. These trees are one of the most vivid memories of reading I can recall as a child.
9. I think it was a tragedy of extreme proportions to the child-me that such trees were nowhere to be seen in my Chicagoland home. The lack of such trees was proof that there had been some mistake and that I was living in the wrong world.
10. This is also the book with Princess Langwidere who has a room full of velvet lined cupboards and, inside each cabinet, is a different head that she can put on or take off whenever she likes. Unfortunately, when Dorothy is visiting, the princess puts on the mean head.
11. My daughter is horrified to learn that some of Princess Langwidere’s heads are mean.
12. I think she is horrified because there are so few mean characters in picture books, which we have read a lot of in previous years. In picture books, there are talking animals who might act mean for a page or two but then they’ve learned their lesson and they are not mean anymore. In fact they usually become very, very helpful, as helpful as a talking animal can be in any case.
13. Now that my daughter is five, it is a relief to not be reading so many picture books anymore.
14. The public library of my childhood stored their old oversized hardcover copy ofOzma of Oz on the second floor, in a room with orange carpeting. Despite the orange carpeting, I remember the pleasure of reading in that space, back when reading was a pleasure, and one did not have to think about what one will say about a book when reading it.
15. The copy I am reading to my daughter is missing 30 pages so I have to download the public-domain text from Amazon and read that part of it on the kindle app on my phone.
16. My daughter listens to each chapter attentively and rather breathlessly, clasping her hands in her lap when moments of tension arrive, moments like the appearance, for instance, of the enchanted mechanical giant with his iron hammer who is guarding the home of the gnome king.
17. It is nice to be worried for a change about how to get past an enchanted giant who might smash you to bits with a hammer.
18. As opposed to be worried about other things.
19. Like dinner. Or my life.Or my children’s lives. Or the growing list of things I’m actually supposed to be doing right now.
20. That is part of the attraction of reading children’s books, or fantasy books, or better yet, a children’s fantasy book. You become worried about the children of Ev whose father sold them to the gnome king and then the father jumped off a cliff while the gnome king changed all the children into display ornaments which he uses to decorate his castle.
21. What if you are not a child or do not have a child? Should you, in either case, be reading, or re-reading, children’s literature such as Ozma of Oz? This is a valid question. The answer is yes.
22. Children’s literature is hopeful, and transportive, and fun, and not unbearably long, and often has color illustrations, and in children’s literature, the good people are clearly good, and the bad people are clearly bad, which is relaxing to read about. Children’s lit can also remind a person, or at least has reminded me, why they fell in love with reading and writing in the first place. (If you need additional justification,Gore Vidal wrote a New Yorker essay in 1977 about how he reread all of the Oz books as an adult.)
23. Anybody reading Ozma of Oz—including Gore Vidal I would assume—can probably guess from the very beginning that there will be a happy ending.
24. There is a happy ending. There are potentially 12 more happy endings in Oz as a dozen books remaining in the series. Which is good because depressing endings are over-rated. Even if that’s true to life, even if life must, by default, end depressingly, I am tired of crying during the final pages of adult literature.
25. It was a gift to live with my daughter for a while in a world with dinner-pail trees that I had visited before but it was a long time ago.
Debbie Urbanski (debbieurbanski.com) is a writer and mom living in
Central New York. Her stories have been published in the UK science
fiction magazines Interzone and Arc, Nature: the International Weekly
Journal of Science, and Necessary Fiction.