Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Favorites: Books From Childhood

First of all, I want to thank you, readers, for your great ideas from my Writer's Block post.

A couple of you asked about books, which is always a favorite subject of mine. It always has been! Not surprisingly, I was a huge bookworm as a kid. My parents consistently found ratty books all around the house, dumped upside-down on countertops so that the correct page could be found later. Just ask - it drove them crazy. I've always had a habit of re-reading favorite books and as a result they tend to look more than a bit careworn after awhile. Worn bindings, pages falling out, food/water stains, you name it. My copy of Anne's House of Dreams doesn't even have a cover anymore.

But I digress. Back to favorites.

I can't bring myself to choose just one favorite children's book, so you'll have to settle for a top ten. They're in age order, from my favorites as a young child to a teenager.

1. I had dozens of Berenstain Bears books as a kid, and loved them all. My brother and I poured over every one, learning simple lessons about table manners, strangers, and telling the truth. A personal favorite was the story of when the cubs had a case of the "galloping greedy gimmies." To this day I remember a multitude of very specific plot details and illustrations.

2. I have fond memories of my mom reading the Ramona books to us kids before bedtime. Ben and I would also check the audio books out of the library to take with us on road trips. Ramona, for me, was one of those characters with whom I could really relate. She was delightfully normal, with squeaky new shoes on her first day of school, parents struggling to make ends meet, and misunderstandings with teachers. She always wanted to do the right thing, but didn't always get there.

3. The Little House books were favorites of mine because they took me back to a completely different time in history. It was fascinating to read about Laura's life in a one room log cabin, with her "Pa" hunting bears and "Ma" making cheese and storing food for long winters. I followed this family through the entire series, from the Prairie to Plum Creek to the town they eventually helped to found. I thought about what it would be like to load up everything in a wagon and take off, hoping for a better life down the road. While she shared some things about their struggles, I realize now that Laura wrote her history through a rose-colored, and often fictional lens. In reality, things were pretty rough for that family, with poor crops, bouts of fever, a baby brother that died, and little money to go around. But Laura was an excellent storyteller, and I dearly loved almost every book in this series.

4. Okay, so this is where it gets embarassing. Were they time-honored books for children? No. Literary masterpieces? Not hardly. But no list of my favorite books growing up is complete without The Baby-sitter's Club series. I actually had some kind of subscription where I received a new one each month. I devoured them, and to this day I'm not sure why. The plots were 90% the same from book to book, with almost identical first chapters in each book where the author described the "Club" and its members. There was Kristy, the smart one, Mary Anne, the priss with the overprotective dad, and Claudia the "cool" Japanese artist, just to name a few. They liked to watch kids and most of their adventures revolved around their babysitting experiences. Sigh.

5. Moving on to good children's literature. I have always been intrigued by the stories of friendship and bravery during the terrible years of WW2. I love The Hiding Place and Anne Frank and several others, but my favorite as a kid was Number The Stars. It is the story of two young Danish girls, Annemarie and Ellen, whose lives are changed by the German occupation. As the story progresses, Annemarie's family hides and protects Ellen, who is Jewish, and eventually helps her and her family make it to Sweden, a safe zone for Jews. While it is fictional tale, it reflects countless true lives of Jews and resistance fighters in that time in history. And I love it that the story is told through the eyes of an ordinary 10 year-old who is worried about her best friend.

6. Another book from Lois Lowry - I love her. The Giver is about a 12 year-old boy named Jonas, who lives in a fictional future society that has seperated itself from all pain. Jonas, throughout the story, comes to learn that his community is not only seperated from suffering, violence, and injustice, but also from love, family, beauty, and joy. Not only that, he learns about a systemic deception whereby deviant, sick, and elderly people are killed by lethal injection. Along with his mentor, Jonas devises a plan to help his community and save the life of an innocent child.
7. I first learned about The Westing Game when my fifth grade teacher read it aloud my class each day after lunch. I promptly bought myself a copy and read it to pieces. It is an ingenious puzzle mystery about the heirs of a wealthy recluse, Sam Westing, who find themselves playing a game - complete with teams, clues, and prizes - to figure out who killed him. A great, fun read.

8. Anne of Green Gables! The entire series definitely makes my list. The first book is the fictional story of a precocious, red-haired girl, set in the 1800s in Prince Edward Island, Canada. After being adopted by an elderly brother/sister pair, she names the nearby pond "the Lake of Shining Waters," tries to dye her hair black but ends up turning it green, and breaks a school slate over the head of her arch-rival, Gilbert Blythe. The following 6 books chronicle Anne's adventures in adult life through college, "courtship" and ultimate marriage to Gilbert, and motherhood. They're classics - very old school, very clean, and, in my opinion, timeless.

9. The high school classic: To Kill a Mockingbird. Since they do a good job of it, I'll let Amazon describe it for you:

"Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up."

Scout Finch remains one of my all-time favorite characters in all of literature. So much that I'm tempted to use "Scout" as a middle name for one of my future children.

10. Harry Potter. Harry arrived on the scene when I was in high school, and I soon found myself caught up in the craze. I quickly devoured the first couple books, and then eagerly awaited each of the next releases. I participated in an all night release party at Barnes & Noble with some friends for #3 (age 17) - and again for #7 (age 23). To this day I often have the audio books on in the background while I get things done around the house.

Yes, those are glow-in-the-dark Harry glasses. And, incedentally, that is Matt and Erin, fellow Potter fans, with us in that picture.

For those who are anxiously awaiting more of the Josh + Jessica saga, I plan to write more right around the anniversary of our engagement in December. Are you looking for a first kiss story? Or the time Josh punched me in the mouth (by accident, of course)? All in good time.


Lynn said...

What a fun list! That post took some effort! We share a lot of the same favorites....and there are a few there that I haven't read....YET!

Anonymous said...

1. I like your list

2. Too Much Junk Food is my fav BB book. I am happy that is the pic you chose.

3. You know how I feel about the Westing Game. :)

4. I too had/ have a strong interest in WWII books- here's two you need to read: 1. The Endless Steppe- memoir- polish family sent not to concentration camps, but to gypsum mines in Siberia. Quite excellent. 2. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas- a fairly new book showing a concentration camp from a different perspective. They are actually currently making a movie of this one.


Anonymous said...

5. (forgot my last point)

Have I ever told you about Lowry's Newbery acceptance speech for the Giver? It is facinating.

Read it here:

Anonymous said...

yup. another post. lied about the earlier speech. It's good- you should read it, but this is the one I actually intended to attach.


Dave and Jenni said...

Oh I was a bookworm too! My favorite thing to do in the summer was to get some favorite books out of the library and ride my bike down to our neighborhood park. I'd climb up my favorite tree with a backpack full of necessities and sit and read for hours. Yep, total nerd.

But I loved Babysitters Club (I know, nothing to brag about) and the Ramona books. I don't think I could pick an all-time favorite either. There were too many good ones!

Kristen said...

What a fun list! I was a bookworm too. I would spend entire days in my bedroom just reading. I didn't get into the Babysitter's Club but I was a huge Sweet Valley High fan back in the day :o)

Morgan has finished the Ramona Series and Little House- so fun to share this love of reading with my daughter.

I like the Lois Lowry books. I haven't read any of her work since college though. I will have to revisit some of those titles.

Thanks for sharing!

Jedda said...

my list includes all of yours-I love your choices! I loved "The Little Princess" too :)

Tom, Beth, and Ainsley said...

Wow, your list is almost identical to what I would put! I had tons of Berenstein bears and loved the Ramona books as well. I always tried to get my students to read them, but they wouldn't. My sister was obsessed with Babysitters and had probably every single book. It took up her entire bookshelf. I wasn't much of a fan though, I read them but I was more into Boxcar Children. The Giver and Number the Stars are probably my two all time favorite books ever!!! I reread them every couple of years. Have you read the sequels to the Giver? I'm not a fan really. And of course I love Westing Game and all Harry Potters. You have great taste in books!

Chrispy Critter said...

I love Ramona Quimby!! She totally reminds me of Ruby. Matt is a Map FREAK. He and Josh will have to get together on that.