I’ve always been surrounded by books. Reading is a popular activity in my family, something my mother championed, and something I was able to pass on to my own sons. My mother’s motto was “it doesn’t matter so much what you are reading, so long as you are reading”. In fact, when some relatives disapproved of me reading comic books, she went and got me subscriptions to the Star Wars and G.I. Joe comics.
When I had children of my own it was neat to go to the bookstore and see many of the same books I had as a wee tot still on the shelves, classics such as Are You My Mother and Make Way for Ducklings. It was a treat to watch them discover their own favorites, like Richard Scarry and series such as Goosebumps and Captain Underpants. And yes, they also read comic books, although one favored The Simpsons and the other liked Spawn. I am confident that when they have their own children the reading legacy will continue.
But this blog is about my faves, not theirs. And I really want to talk about books that I liked as a child and as a teen (and as a parent, though here is a list of kids books that adults should read, or read again).
I don’t believe any such list can be made without including Dr. Seuss. He is the grandmaster of the genre. My favorite as a child was Green Eggs and Ham. I can remember wondering back then if there was such a thing as green eggs. And I was delighted when in kindergarten my eldest had a classmate named Sam, so I could use the phrase “that Sam-I-Am” a lot. My boys took a liking to their mother’s favorite, Yertle the Turtle. My coworkers can attest that to this day I can recite most of the book from memory.
A staple of children’s books through the years are Little Golden Books. My favorite was The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover, written by Jon Stone (who was a Sesame Street writer and producer) and illustrated by Michael Smollin. In the book the narrator, Grover, implores you to not read the book, since there is a monster at the end. He employs various tactics to try and stop the reading, only to find at the end that the monster is Grover himself. A great interactive read, and as an adult you appreciate the subtleties of the book, which I talked about before here.
Another all timeless favorite is Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. It is a book that sparks imagination, and it is fun to read to kids as you get several text-less pages where you can just go “RUMPUS! RUMPUS! RUMPUS!”
One of the first books I loved as I became an independent reader was a bit of an anomaly, being that it is a “girly” book. The author having the same last name as me probably got me to initially read it. Little House in the Big Woods was the first of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. I really liked how the life that it portrayed was so different from mine. I don’t recall if I read any of the others.
I believe it was in 4th grade that my love for fantasy books was kickstarted by, unsurprisingly, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the first of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. I read those books repeatedly, especially enjoying The Silver Chair and The Horse and His Boy. As a kid I would sometimes read a book and when I finished I would go back to page one and start over. As an adult I recently cleared a number of books off my shelves, since I have read them once and I am fine with that. Also, if you are wanting to get a child to read this series, make sure to start with “The Lion…” Some editions number the series chronologically, which puts the driest of them, The Magician’s Nephew, first. Bad idea to me, but opinions vary.
The next entry on my list is probably the longest book I read as a youth, coming in at 500+ pages. Of course my kids read longer ones, thanks to Harry Potter. Duncton Wood is a book about moles. Not sold? Let me try again. Duncton Wood is a grand sweeping adventure novel, filled with romance, intrigue, harrowing battles, dastardly villains and heroic deeds. It just happens to features moles as the characters. William Horwood wrote another five books about these brave moles. When I read it I didn’t even know what a mole looked like. I had to look them up next time I was at the library.
Often times someone comes into the library and asks us to help them find a book they once read. This can be an easy task or an extremely difficult one (“It had a red cover, and maybe there was a dog in it”) In fact, the library had a challenge contest for all our staff a couple years ago to help track down one of these books. It was hard. This leads me to my next books, because for many years I couldn’t find them. I did not remember the titles or the author, and the parts of the books I did recall were too generic to help. Until I thought of one particular monster that appeared in the second book, a gelatinous cube (okay, it was called a Bayemot in the book, but I know a gelatinous cube when I see one).
The Prince in Waiting is the first in the Sword of the Spirits trilogy by John Christopher. It is a teen series mixing fantasy and science fiction. Set in England, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where technology is shunned and mankind has reverted to medieval ways. Our protagonist, 13 year old Luke, has to not only learn to deal with the political intrigue that comes from being the son of a Captain, but also cope when he finds that the ways and the teachings of his society are both wrong and are being manipulated.
My best exposure to puns came with A Spell for Chameleon, the first in the Xanth series by Piers Anthony.
The Xanth series of novels, originally planned to be a trilogy, debuted in 1977. The 39th volume was released this year, with more to come. Set in the magical land of Xanth, which is shaped exactly like Florida, these books are fun even before you factor in all the puns in them. Just look at some of the titles: Crewel Lye, Isle of View, and Knot Gneiss. They were a reading staple of my teen years. I haven’t fully kept up with the series as an adult, but they are always good for a quick, fun read.
These were my favorites, but I would like to mention some of the books my boys liked when they were little. Go, Dog. Go!, by Seuss protege P.D. Eastman, is a good read along book, one that helps the transition from you reading to them to them reading to you.
The Bravest Ever Bear, by Allan Ahlberg, takes standard childrens tales and turns them on their head, featuring a princess who won’t follow the script and kung fu bears.
This was my oldest son’s first favorite book. A prize to whomever can identify it.
Finding an old Pooh book lead to many great reads. Pooh and Piglet trying to catch a Heffalump had us laughing so hard that I could barely keep reading.
And then we have Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin. Farmer Brown’s cows find an old typewriter and use it to start to issuing demands. For those of us with offbeat senses of humor this book is a must. Plus your kids will like it too.
There are so many other great kids books out there, like The Giving Tree and Love You Forever, two books that are great if you want your kids to see your cry. And there is A Wrinkle in Time, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Goodnight Moon, The Hobbit…but you don’t need me to tell you that. You are clearly a reader since you read this blog. So you tell me what kids books you like. There are no wrong answers.
A list of the the books mentioned in this blog can be found in our library catalog here: https://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=32439;page=0;locg=155;depth=0