Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Bookworm's Year, Part 2

My last post was about my year as a bookworm in 2013. I published the list of all the adult fiction books I read last year (including "blurbs" about my favorites). But once a blog post gets past a certain length, people's eyes just start to glaze over, so I decided to do a second post about the children's fiction I read.

I agree whole-heartedly with C.S. Lewis that, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." That is why I make it a habit to only read good children's stories. I am also building my own collection of children's books– ostensibly for my future children, but also because I read them all myself, regularly. All the rest of my library I have gone through and donated or swapped lots of books that are good books but which I can't see myself reading over and over for the rest of my life. But a good children's book finds a permanent home on my shelves.

I owe most of my familiarity with so much children's literature to my mother, who made it a habit to go to the library, bring home vast quantities of books, and read them to see which ones were worth passing onto her children.

Meredith's 2013 In Books

Children's Books

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of the children's books I read last year. It is as many as I wrote down and/or can remember, but there were undoubtedly a few that slipped through the cracks. 

Carol Ryrie Brink- Two Are Better than One, Louly
Most children's literature fans are familiar with Brink's Newbery Medal winning novel Caddie Woodlawn. These lesser-known novels are based on Brink's early adolescence in the west at the beginning of the 1900s. I have dearly loved Two Are Better than One from the first time I read it years and years ago because the main character, 13-year-old Crystal, and her best friend Cordy write a novel called The Romantical Perils of Lester and Lynette. Crystal is a an introverted girl who makes up stories in her head– someone I could completely relate to. Louly, the sequel, explores more of Crystal's questions as she grows older while she and her friends have lots of ordinarily hilarious adventures like camping in the backyard, driving a pony cart in the Fourth-of-July parade, and entering a regional speech competition. These books always made me wish I lived at the beginning of the 1900s so I could buy new Easter hats and drive down to the ice-cream parlor in a pony card and have a masquerade ball with my Sunday school class.

Helen Clare- The Five Dolls in a House, The Five Dolls and the Monkey, The Five Dolls and their Friends, the Five Dolls and the Duke 
My mom found The Five Dolls series in the library system in Colorado Springs when I was eight or nine, and my sister Maggie and I weren't the only ones who read them. My brothers read them too! They're out of print but you can find them on ABE books. The stories are about Elizabeth, an English girl who can turn herself small and visit the five dolls, Vanessa, Jane, Jacqueline, Lupin, and Amanda, who live in Elizabeth's dollhouse (not to mention the monkey who lives on the roof). The dolls call Elizabeth the landlady ("dear Mrs. Small!") and pay her cough-drops for rent (which they keep in the teapot). I have read a few other dolls-come-to-life stories and none of them come close to being as charming and whimsical (not to mention quintessentially British) as The Five Dolls series. It's because of this series that we know about Guy Fawkes Day, and that apartments in England are called flats and mailmen are postmen, and how to use the word "genteel" in a sentence. Maggie and I even went so far as to construct our own dollhouse out of shoeboxes; we made clothespin dolls of the Five Dolls characters.

Alice Dalgleish- The Silver Pencil
This novel is based on Dalgleish's own childhood to young adulthood, and one of the reasons I have always liked it is because Janet loves writing. Also because she reads books like Little Women– is there any better literary feeling when a character in a book starts reading the same books that you yourself read? Dalgleish was born in Trinidad, educated during her teenage years in England, and came to America when she was nineteen. In the book Janet does the same. Dalgleish's word-pictures create the atmosphere of the different countries well– and if the story lags a little in places, the book drifts gently but steadily forward. So if you get tired of reading about Janet's experiences at her high school in London (what do they call high schools in England? I've always been confused by that!) just keep going, she'll be back in Trinidad soon!

Edward Eager- Half Magic
When I was visiting my sister Maggie at Belhaven University for a day on the move to SC, she showed me the college library and (of course!) we went into The Juvenile Room. I saw this book on the shelf and caught it up, trying to remember if I'd read it or not. When I managed to get it on Paperback Swap, I remembered that I had. It's a cute magic story, but I enjoyed the Edith Nesbit references more than the actual story itself. So my advice– skip Edward Eager, or else consider him as merely the appetizer and go straight to the main dish– his muse, Nesbit.
Edith Nesbit- The Story of the Treasure-Seekers
Nesbit was not only Edward Eager's muse, she also inspired C.S. Lewis. I have read that she was the first writer for children to bring magic out of fantasy worlds (like Alice in Wonderland and the Oz books) and into children's every-day lives. Treasure Seekers is actually one of her non-magical books, but the adventures of the Bastable children trying to restore the fallen fortunes of their house still entertains me. I also highly recommend The Railway Children and The Five Children and It.
J.R.R. Tolkien- The Hobbit
Last Christmastime we went to the movie theater to see The Hobbit. Neither of us realized that it was going to be a trilogy of movies, and since I am intimately familiar with the story, I got rather worried when we had been sitting in the theater for two and a half hours and Bilbo and the dwarves still hadn't gotten out of the Misty Mountains. While for the most part I enjoyed the movie, I was perturbed by a few of the changes Peter Jackson made– most particularly, the way he changed the whole tone of the story and tried to make it into an epic saga instead of a light-hearted children's fairy tale. The Pilot had read The Hobbit once in his childhood but not since then, so since he couldn't sympathize properly with my concerns about the movie, I decided the only thing to do was to read it out loud to him. So that's what I did, every night that we could manage before bedtime. The Pilot gets instantaneously sleepy when something is read out loud (particularly if he is already tucked in bed) so as a result it took us several months to complete the whole book. But he liked it and I love reading out loud, so we agreed it was a good matrimonial experience.
C.S. Lewis- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian
I was slightly horrified to find out that my darling husband, so highly educated in many ways, had never read or heard The Chronicles of Narnia! I don't even remember how old I was when my mom first read them out loud to myself and my younger siblings, nor can I remember not knowing and loving the stories. So, since reading The Hobbit out loud to the Pilot worked pretty well, I decided our next great endeavor would be the Chronicles. We are reading them in the order which C.S. Lewis wrote them (which, as every Lewis fan knows, is the BEST order!) and all I had to make the Pilot understand was tell him that it was kind of like Star Wars. (Currently, we have just embarked on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.)

Eloise Jarvis McGraw- Sawdust In His Shoes
I re-read this favorite when I was visiting my parents, because unfortunately it is severely out of print– there are only two copies on ABE books and the cheaper one is $450. (I am requesting my mother to leave her copy to me in her will.) Lots of people know about McGraw's more popular book, Moccasin Trail, which is easy to find. Sawdust is just as good a story– about fifteen-year-old Joe, who is a bareback rider in a small circus somewhere around the mid 1900s. My mother did most of the reading of bed-time stories and chapter books to us kids, but my father was the one who read Sawdust In His Shoes. So when I read it to myself I hear his voice narrating it. The story is heart-warming and touching, so if you can ever find a copy that isn't in the 100s of dollars, snatch it up! (Unless I get to it first!)

This post has gotten quite long enough, so I shall have to expand to a third post for my nonfiction reads! To be continued!

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