Monday, January 4, 2010

The kid in all of us

While I am meandering off my historical fiction comfort zone path I thought I would detour even farther into the wonderful world of children's books. I have always been a reader but have never been much of a re-reader. There were a few books that captured my imagination to the point where I couldn't help but reading them over and over. I give you my top 5 children's books of all time (and a few honorable mentions):
1. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

This book about 6 kids, otherwise unlikely to be friends, who recreate "Egypt" in an abandoned parking lot behind an antiques store just sucked me in. It was such fun travelling along with these characters as they made costumes and made up rituals. There was also an element of danger as a child kidnapper is on the loose in the neighborhood and crosses paths with one of the children. I checked this out from the school library many times-read it just about every year from 4th grade up until high school. It sparked the imagination of myself and my friends who made up similiar games we played in my backyard.

2. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

This is another one that takes place in an imaginary locale: From Amazon "Milo, the bored young protagonist who can't see the point to anything is knocked out of his glum humdrum by the sudden and curious appearance of a tollbooth in his bedroom. Since Milo has absolutely nothing better to do, he dusts off his toy car, pays the toll, and drives through. What ensues is a journey of mythic proportions, during which Milo encounters countless odd characters who are anything but dull.

As Milo heads toward Dictionopolis he meets with the Whether Man ("for after all it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be"), passes through The Doldrums (populated by Lethargarians), and picks up a watchdog named Tock (who has a giant alarm clock for a body). The brilliant satire and double entendre intensifies in the Word Market, where after a brief scuffle with Officer Short Shrift, Milo and Tock set off toward the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the twin Princesses, Rhyme and Reason.

This book had so many unusual characters and destinations that you had no idea where Milo and his faithful companion Tock would end up next. This is another one that I read several times. I still have a copy of it in fact :)

3. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

From Amazon: "In Where the Red Fern Grows, Billy and his precious coonhound pups romp relentlessly through the Ozarks, trying to "tree" the elusive raccoon. In time, the inseparable trio wins the coveted gold cup in the annual coon-hunt contest, captures the wily ghost coon, and bravely fights with a mountain lion. When the victory over the mountain lion turns to tragedy, Billy grieves, but learns the beautiful old Native American legend of the sacred red fern that grows over the graves of his dogs."

Many might say, awww, a story of a boy and his dogs. BORING! This was not boring at all. It was a beautiful story of Billy's devotion to his dogs Old Dan and Little Ann. I felt like I was right in the book with them. A good writer should make you feel that way- so connected to the characters that you feel like you are on a journey with them. I cried like a baby when the journey ended.

4. The Happy Hollisters Series by Jerry West

The Happy Hollisters is actually a 33 book series that was written 1953-1969. The books follow the adventures of the Hollister Children-Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, and Sue as together they solve mysteries. I discovered these books when I was around 10. A family member owned the whole series and let me borrow them one at a time. I loved them so much I was mowing through 3 or 4 of them a week and then when I was through, read some of them again. It's a shame that some publisher hasn't discovered these and reprinted them because they are definitely worth it. I collected them all for my son to read when he gets older and I'm hoping he'll love them as much as I did.

5. The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling

Ok so I didn't read these when I was a kid but I enjoyed them all the same. Anything that gets kids to love books and read voraciously is A-OK in my book. I had to try them for myself and was quickly sucked into the world of Hogwarts and the lives of the boy wizard Harry Potter and his friends Ron and Hermoine and their battles with the villianous Lord Voldemort and his deatheaters. Personally I think the writing got better as the books progressed. I read the 6th and 7th books in 1.5 days. I also like that with the exception of the last movie (where I sat in my seat going what the hell was that? for at least 15 minutes) the movies have stayed pretty true to the books and both are spectacular.


1. The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois

From Amazon: " Professor William Waterman Sherman intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. But through a twist of fate, he lands on Krakatoa, and discovers a world of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and incredible balloon inventions."

Several words come to mind when I think of this book: imaginitive, whimsical, funny, peculiar, and just plain fun. I think I last read this in 6th grade but I still recall how much fun I had reading it.

2. Matilda by Roald Dahl

The title character, Matilda, is a young girl who is a genius born to a family of idiots who have zero appreciation for her abilities. Her only escape is the classroom of Ms. Honey who encourages Matilda's love of learning. When Ms. Honey earns the ire of the headmistress of the school the mean and scary Ms. Trunchbull, Matilda decides to do something about it.

I've enjoyed basically everything I've ever read by Roald Dahl but none more than Matilda. The heroine is plucky, the book is hilarious, and it has a happy ending to boot. The movie version doesn't even come close to doing it justice.

3. The Babysitters Club series by Ann M. Martin

Ann M. Martin started writing these books in 1986 and I started reading them in the early 90's. The books usually each focus on one character out of five main characters: Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey and Dawn who form a business called the Babysitters Club. The Babysitters Club holds meetings mondays, wednesdays and fridays for half an hour where parents can call in and schedule a babysitter.

I liked this series because the author developed a distinct personality for each of the girls so no matter what your personality you could relate to one of them. Kristy was the brainiac over-achiever, Claudia the artist, Mary Anne the shy one, Stacy the fashionista and Dawn the sporty California surfer girl. After 134 regular novels, several super-specials and mysteries Martin stopped writing the series in 2000.

4. Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout would not take the garbage out... I think I will always remember this poem. I thought poetry boring until I discovered Silverstein and these two books. Like others on my list they got you to use your imagination and some were funny enough to make you laugh until you peed your pants. I will definitely be adding these two to my sons collection.

5. Sweet Valley Twins by Francine Pascal

These books followed the adventures of identical twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield throughout their lives. The Sweet Valley Kids books focused on the twins and their friends at age 7, the Sweet Valley Twins books focused on them in 7th grade and the High books were of course, High School. I read mostly the Sweet Valley Twins books. This was before I discovered the Babysitters Clubs books. Despite the outlandish plot lines in some of the books and most everyone in them being perfect, they were still a fun read.

I'm sure there are many more that deserve a place on this list but these are the ones that stand out in my memory and shaped my love of reading.


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