Nicole over at the Boyhouse posted about 10 Childhood Books that Stuck, as in books that she read before age 12 that were especially memorable for some reason. I think it’s a meme that’s going around. Anyway, I was going to comment over there but it quickly ballooned into an out-of-control hijack of her blog so thought I’d move it over here.
So here are some books that come to mind when I think about those pre-grade-8 years:
1. The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key. We read this when I was in Grade 5, and I think it was the first fantasy book I’d ever read, and it blew my mind. Alexander Key is better known for his book Escape to Witch Mountain, and after reading The Forgotten Door I went on to read all his books, but this first one will always live in my memory – I can still quote parts of it. My class wrote him a letter as part of studying the book and it was my first author fan letter ever, and I gushed and gushed. Sadly, we heard back a few months later from his widow – he’d died just the year before – but it was still a wonder to me to have an actual response.
2. The Tattooed Potato, and Other Clues, by Ellen Raskin. I love, love, love Ellen Raskin. All her books are genius – they are mysteries, but odd and offbeat ones containing nutty characters and crazy situations and surprising twist answers to unusual questions. She’s best known for The Westing Game and I’ve read that book probably two dozen times and it’s great. But The Tattooed Potato holds a special place in my heart because a) the lead character’s name is a sassy girl called Dickory Dock and b) I never, ever saw the ending coming. Other titles by her include The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel), which I just read to my youngest and it totally holds up; and Figgs and Phantoms, a book that changed my whole world outlook when I was 12.
3. The Clue of the Tapping Heels by Carolyn Keene – My favourite Nancy Drew book, but in truth I read them all. ALL OF THEM. I also read all the Hardy Boys books – literally, ALL of them. Once when I was in Grade 4 I was home sick for a day, and my mother had an appointment that she had to go out for, so she gave me two brand new Nancy Drew books she’d been saving for my birthday to keep me busy in bed while she was out, and when she came back two hours later I had read them both. The Tapping Heels involves tap dancing and morse code – so yeah, loved that one.
4. Hurry Home Candy by Meindert deJong (pictures by Maurice Sendak). Checked this book out from the school library in Grade 5 at least four times – my younger sister FameThrowa discovered this fact when she was in Grade 5 at the same school, and saw my name multiple times on the card. Not sure why I did that, as this is seriously, SERIOUSLY, the saddest book of all time. It’s the story of a young stray dog, Candy, who goes through many adventures, most of which end badly or sadly or meanly. At the very, very end, the dog does find a kind home and it’s a WEEPFEST, I can’t even think about it now without welling up. FameThrowa bought me my very own copy about a decade ago and I can’t even imagine reading it to the children because I’d just sob all the way through it. It’s on the bookshelf downstairs if they want to have a go at it on their own.
5. The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald, Banner In The Sky by James Ramsay Ullman, and Crisis on Conshelf Ten by Monica Hughes. My mother has a brother, my uncle, and he’s 10 years younger than her, which makes him only 15 years older than me. When I was in middle school, he was a young adult but not married and he had to shop for his nieces for Christmas and had no idea what to get for tweenaged girls. So he went into a bookstore and asked the lady there what he should get for me, a 12 year old who loved reading, and she sold him these three titles, all of which changed my life. The Great Brain is a classic of hilarity – I read it to the Captain a couple of years ago and it totally holds up, funny as ever, just as I remembered it. Banner in the Sky is a story about a young man determined to climb a mountain and it was so moving and inspirational and I absolutely remember every word. And Crisis on Conshelf Ten – love, love, love that book, went on to read everything by Monica Hughes (she is best known for her Isis series, about a girl living alone on another planet). This one is about a society that lives on a future earth underwater, and one boy who is invited to use his low-grav skills to help settle the moon.
I just had a look on Amazon and let me say, it is sad that many of Monica Hughes’ books are now out of print – as are most of Ellen Raskin’s. I’m sure there’s more. In today’s ebook age, it seems like a simple thing to just upload the text and get it out there. Hm – possible new project.
Anyway, moving on!
6. Deenie by Judy Blume. Like every woman my age, I have read all of Judy’s books, but my favourites were Deenie and Tiger Eyes, both of which I read many times and heralded a new age of womanhood. Still remember Deenie making out with a boy at a party – THE SCANDAL. It was my own personal Fifty Shades of Grey. Also, I can still describe scene-for-scene how to get yourself a back brace for scoliosis. This book inspired me to seek out the movie Splendor in the Grass, starring Natalie Wood in the role that Deenie was named for, and that kick-started my whole love of classic movies, which soon became an all-consuming passion that lives on to this day.
As a fun aside, Nicole is doing a full chapter-by-chapter recap of Deenie over at her new blog, Throwback Three.
7. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I actually didn’t read a lot of “classic” literature as a kid. Things like Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web, or Little House on the Prairie were all read in my 20s because I felt I’d missed out on something. This is one of the few classic novels I did actually read, in Grade 5, and I loved it. Magical and dreamy with a kickass protagonist – oh, how I wanted my very own secret garden.
8. Among the Dolls by William Sleator. My whole life I thought this was another title by Frances Burnett, but it seems her book about dollhouses is a sweet little ditty about two competing dollhouses, while this one is a work of sheer TERROR. I had to look it up online but I’m pretty sure this is the one that continues to live large in my memory – probably the first horror book I ever read and it scared the pants off of me. It’s about a girl who gets a dollhouse for her birthday and, due to a troubled home life, is mean to the dolls inside – so then they suck her into the house so they can be mean right back. GAH. I also read The Green Futures of Tycho by the same author, about time travel, which mostly served to teach me who the hell Tycho Brahe was.
9. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Both of these were read to my Grade 4 class by my totally awesome teacher (she later went on to become the school’s librarian), and I loved them, they were like a golden special treat for the end of the day. Years later I still absolutely remembered whole chucks of both wholesale, and bought both for my kids and insisted they read them, and now I have read both probably 20 times, at least. WORTH IT.
10. George and Martha by James Marshall. Not a lot of picture books on this list, because I was a precocious reader and was into novels at an early age. But George and Martha – oh, how I loved them. We owned their book about pea soup (Martha loves to make it; George hates to eat it, but can’t tell her because it will hurt her feelings), and I’m sure I read it 100 times. I saw their combined tales at the library last year and I checked it out for ME, not the children, and re-read it all and it was super nostalgic.
Ah, warm memories of days spent hiding in the corner of a family reunion with my nose in a book. Good times, good times.