Children’s Book Week will be soon be over, which makes me a little sad because I have really been enjoying having an excuse to talk about my favorite children’s books with my fellow book lovers. I have also loved all the great articles and blog posts about children’s literature and its impact on readers of all ages that have been posted this week. But there has been one unexpected side effect to Children’s Book Week that really took me by surprised. In talking with other book lovers and in reading articles like “The 37 Children’s Books that Changed Your Life,” I have come to realize that there are some major holes in my childhood reading.
While I grew up obsessed with books like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, the Little House on the Prairie books, Charlotte’s Web, etc., there are some titles that come up over and over again in my conversations about kid’s books that I somehow missed. These books were well – known and very significant in the literary development of other book lovers but I just never read them.
Somehow, despite growing up in a family of avid readers and devout Christians, I didn’t read a single Narnia book until I was in my early 30’s. I can’t imagine how I made it that far without someone handing me a copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but I did. The Little Prince, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Harriet the Spy? Never crossed my path, (although I have since read the Little Prince). The closest I came to Roald Dahl was watching and loving the Willy Wonka film starring Gene Wilder. And I realized yesterday, with a certain amount of shock, that I have gone my entire life without reading a single Beverly Cleary book. I am not sure how that is possible when you consider how many books I churned through as a kid, but there it is.
Clearly, I have some catching up to do. It’s a shame that I have been missing out for so many years and it is possible that certain books may have more impactful if I had read them at an earlier time in my life but I believe that a good book is a good book, no matter what age it was written for. Certain books, like Anne of Green Gables, always speak to me, no matter how old I get. So I am willing to give other children’s book classics a chance to win my heart too. Also, as someone who wants to be a teacher and who has given herself the task of making sure that her nieces and nephews are introduced to the “essential” books, I really should fill in the holes in my reading history.
With that in mind, I sat down yesterday with some of the books on the “I can’t believe you haven’t read this” list. I checked out Beezus and Ramona and quickly came to the conclusion that I would have loved Beezus as a child. As two long suffering older sisters with charming but demanding younger siblings, I think we would have understood each other. I also thought that it is a good thing that Ramona and Fudge from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (which I did read and love as a kid) never had a play date. They would have had a blast and probably would have gotten along quite well but I am not sure whatever adult (or older sibling) was in charge that day would have made it out alive!
Then I went on to read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Bloom. I can definitely see how it could a significant book to many young girls, and I liked how it dealt with religion, identity, and family rather complexly and honestly. I especially loved how Margaret realized that just because a boy was cute and popular, doesn’t mean that he was nice or a good person. I think that is an important truth to know, especially if you can figure it out in 6th grade.
The one thing that bothered me about the book was the way Margaret and her friends treated Laura Danker. I was a tall, isolated kid who was singled out and made fun of (although for different reasons) so I really identified with Laura. I hated the scene where Margaret took out her frustrations on poor Laura but what really made me mad was that even after learning the truth about Laura and coming to realize that her new friends are not all that trustworthy, Margaret never really does anything differently. She is still a part of her little group of friends and Laura is still isolated and alone. For a brief moment of time, Margaret feels empathy and understanding towards Laura but then promptly forgets about it, which quite frankly makes me incredibly sad for her. I realize that Margaret has been left to find her own way in terms of faith and religion but learning about compassion could only help her, regardless of if she was Christian, Jewish, or continues to find her own path with her own, personal relationship with God.
I also recently finished reading From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for the first time and I am utterly charmed by the thought of running away and living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art!
In this case, it might actually have worked to my advantage to read the book now instead of as a child, because I can’t remember the first time I went to the Met. It’s one of my favorite places to spend a day and my husband and I tend to go at least once a year (and more often if we can manage it) but I can’t recall how old I was when I visited the Met for the first time and I am not sure I would have realized just how cool the concept was without first experiencing the Met for myself.
I just know that the next time we go to spend a day at the museum, I am going to be thinking of Claudia and Jamie and their adventures. And I think it’s time to introduce my niece to both this charming book and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I would love to hear from you what children’s books do you consider “essential?” Drop me a line or leave a comment with any must-read books you remember from your childhood and if I somehow missed them, I will add them to the to-read list. Thanks!