Thursday, October 28, 2010

Carpe Kids Books -- and a blanket

As a kid, I escaped into the pages of a book all the time. I read morning, noon and night – under my covers with a couple of cats curled up at my feet, tucked under a big blanket in the old recliner that had been retired to the corner of my bedroom, or in front of the fireplace on cold, winter evenings while Dad watched football games. I learned the simple joy of a hot cup of tea at an early age, so would curl up with a steaming mug, no matter what the weather, and let the stories take me away.

On Huffington Post the other day, I saw an article about the top 10 kids’ books. It inspired me to start jotting down favorite titles I remembered from my own past. Naturally, I ended up with 10 after only a few minutes – the titles flew from my head faster than I thought I would remember them. So many of what I’d call “favorites” didn’t make the list. I pretty much took the first 10 titles I remembered.

Now, I want to seek out the ones I don’t still have on my bookshelf and read them all over again. It is the right time of year for a snuggle under a blanket, a hot cup of something, and a good book!
In no particular order, here are favs from my younger years:

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper – a story of the battle between good and evil, mystical forces and magical characters set in England (for you anglophiles out there) – where children speak with proper English and eat bread a cheese from a paper wrapper when they are out on an adventure. Dark and spooky – should be read by kids and adults alike with a big dog at your feet or at least a flashlight within reach!

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle – Such a classic, I probably don’t need to say any more. My mother gave me this book and I will forever wish to find a tesseract of my own.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls – A boy and his dogs…I remember being so moved by this story, brought to tears by Rawls’ characters and their lives. I think it was my first experience with a piece of literature that wiggled its way deep into my heart and made me sad down to my bones for not only the boy, but for how his story could mirror real life events. Definitely have the Kleenex nearby for this one.

Short stories of Edgar Allen Poe – I don’t remember the specific anthology I had, but I do have a very vivid memory of being scared witless – on a bright, sunny, summer afternoon – by Poe’s Telltale Heart. The house was quiet, and even though the sun was high, I swear I thought I could hear that thump-thump in the walls around my own bedroom! Ack!!

My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara – (Don’t mistake this for the mediocre movie recently produced or any tag-along adaptations that may have come out after the movie was made. Nothing could replace Mary O’Hara’s original!) A girl and her horse. And the copy I read had belonged to my mom when she was a girl. Nuf said.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur Clark – Not a “kids’ book” per se…but I read it when I was probably 11 or 12. My first true encounter with science fiction and I was enthralled! Also came from Mom’s bookshelf.

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien – A survival story that I read when the concept of a nuclear war was high on everyone’s mind. A movie (The Day After) came out around this time, too, and the idea of how to either survive – or better yet, ensure death quickly by driving directly toward a target – was a strange obsession for me. As a result, this book was quite a read. (Side note: It also was the first time I encountered specific fears in a character about violence toward girls or women. Gleaning a first understanding of the threat of rape was quite a realization – helping to make this book a memorable one, I’m sure.)

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien – Weird. I didn’t realize this was by the same author as Z for Zachariah, but thinking about the stories, it kind of makes sense. Another survival story – but this one about a mouse who enlists the help of rats from a scientific laboratory to save her children. A mousie-sized roller coaster ride of adventure!

Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Alan Eckert – Speaking of adventure and survival stories…this one I still have on my shelf somewhere in my house. A young pioneer boy wanders away from his homestead on the prairie, to be found and kept alive by a badger. Sounds weird…but trust me – Mr. Eckert’s style and attention to detail make this a fascinating, believable story.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – Actually, I read bunches and stacks of Agatha Christie books along with my friends when I was probably between 10 and 15 years old. No kids in any of those books, but I was (and still am) a sucker for a good mystery – especially if it involved a group of people (preferably from England) stuck in a huge, old house together (preferably in England) while a storm raged or a flood ravaged or some other natural disaster kept them all trapped together. Until (dum da dum dum….) someone turns up DEAD! (A little chill just ran down my spine!) I particularly loved Hercule Poirot stories…I think because I liked to say his name.

So that’s my ten – not “Top 10” but the first 10 titles that came to mind when I remembered books I loved from when I was a kid. Keep in mind – there wasn’t really a genre or section of the bookstore for YA titles back in the late 70s or early 80s. Which is probably why I spend so much time in those sections today!

What are some titles you remember loving? Or hating?


  1. 1. Madeline L'Engles Austin Family series - including my all time fave "A Ring of Endless Light" (teens! marine biology! dolphins! moonlit night swims! *sigh*)

    2. We also LOVED "The Wolves of Willowby Chase"!

    3. OOO and what about, when we were teens, those fantastic Mary Stewart books (not the Arthur ones, which I didn't really like) but the romantic ones in France and Greece and such whose plot was always about a smart and young governess/teacher and a dashing and misunderstood dark haired man? "Nine Coaches Waiting"/"The Moonspinners"/"My Brother Michael"? I LOVED those!!

  2. Just re-read Flicka this summer, and it wears well. :)

  3. Oooo!! Tops on the list -- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. And, yes, Agatha Christie later on! Then there was Life on the Mississippi, read over a summer on the pull out couch/bed in my grandparents' den...The Tolkein series, Mrs. PiggleWiggle... goodness, I am jumping around on the ages, but this is such a fun question! I also remember setting the environment depending on the book... cup of tea with an A.Christie, tossed in the backpack and read on rock with The Hideaway or My Side of the Mountain...

  4. OF COURSE the Mary Stewart books...They actually appeared on my list at about 13, so they didn't get into the blog entry. But thoughts of Nine Coaches Waiting and My Brother Michael make me crave that hot cup of tea and a quiet corner...(especially now that I have the boxed set from..ahem...someone really important). I could list books all day...

  5. As a kid I was hugely into both Beverly Cleary (Ramona) and Ann M. Martin (the Baby-sitters Club), which I still take the time to read over again as an adult. I even got the chance to do a phone interview with Ms. Martin over the summer which was absolutely the coolest thing ever.

  6. Oh, I love these! I re-read The Dark Is Rising every year, and I go back to Z for Zachariah and Mrs Frisby often as well. It's not just that they're great stories, it's that they summon up that memory of being able to just slip away into a book at that age. Not that we don't still!