I've been reading The Chronicles of Narnia since finishing my last book (off and on) and just finished this afternoon. Unless you've been living under a rock for the last year or so, you might have heard of the movie from one of the stories in the book (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).
The specific edition I read had all of the stories in it: "The Magician's Nephew", "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", "The Horse and His Boy", "Prince Caspian", "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader", "The Silver Chair" and "The Last Battle".
I know I read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" when I was young. I think I also read "Price Caspian", too.
"The Magician's Nephew" sets up how Narnia came to be and introduces Aslan, the Lion. It follows a little boy named Diggory (who, as it turns out, is a Magician's Nephew) and a little girl named Polly as they use Diggory's uncle's magic to travel to different worlds. After some adventure, they end up in the land that would be Narnia and are a part of its creation.
Then, we move into what most people thing of when they think of Narnia: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". This story is about a lion. It's also about a witch. And, you guessed it: the story involves a wardobe. Four children (two brothers and two sisters) are sent away from London during WWII to stay with a family friend in the country. During their stay, they find a magical wardrobe that's a gateway to Narnia. That's when the real Narnian adventure begins. They team up with the good Lion to battle the evil Witch.
Even though these fairy tale stories are written for children, I believe they're written to be read by adults to children. At the very least, the children doing the reading couldn't be very young. The language is somewhat advanced, but the story itself is easy enough to follow. There are some scary moments throughout The Chronicles so it's probably best to know what you're reading to your kids before you begin.
That said, these stories are fantastic. "Everybody" knows that there is a very religious (Christian) theme running through The Chronicles, but even if you're not looking for that sort of story, I don't think it is a distraction. It boils down to the battle between good and evil and ultimately having faith in "good".
I breezed through most of the stories fairly quickly. The action was intense and the stories were VERY interesting. For the most part, you can really get into the characters. I did find that the first time that the four children aren't the main focus, it takes a while to adjust to the new characters without the familiar heroes to cling to. "The Horse and His Boy" has parts like this and I found that it took me an especially long time to get through "The Silver Chair" until the last third of the story when the action really picks up. "The Last Battle" hold your attention and is a great way to end the whole story.
The Chronicles of Narnia is one of those must read books (or collections of books) on everyone's list.
To top it off, the movie (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) is an almost perfect rendition of the book and worth the watch. I'm just sorry I didn't catch it in the theater.
Image taken from Amazon.