Sunday, September 25, 2011

Some Old Favorites

I've been trying to get through a pile of new books that I've accumulated; sadly, many are so dreadful they are practically unreadable.  My progress has also been hampered by obligations at work and home, school having shifted into high gear once more.  Therefore, I've decided to designate this post as an addendum to this one, and write about some books that were (and in some cases, still are) favorites of mine.

  • I'm going to begin this list with E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan.  These, to my mind, are the quintessential American children's novels.  Both books focus on animals with very human attributes, and there's a secondary focus on the humans around them, sympathetic and not.  I recently read a new (adult level) book about White and the creation of Charlotte's Web; quite fascinating, really.
  • No new reader should be denied a chance to read Pippi Longstocking.  This Swedish character is incorrigibly everything a good girl should not be, and yet she is one of the most lovable protagonists in children's literature.  Astrid Lindgren, the author of the Pippi books, wrote others that are not widely available.  Mio, My Son is one that I didn't really get into, but I loved Ronia, The Robber's Daughter.  Targeted to a more mature audience, (11-12 years) this book pulls the reader into another world completely.
  • Jean Little was a very popular author when I was growing up; many of her books focus on children with disabilities.  She has also written some impressive autobiographical books.  From Anna is one of the former, and it focuses on a little German immigrant to Canada who discovers that her stupidity and clumsiness are really a result of her extremely poor eyesight.  I'll confess that I still sometimes take it out of the library and read it, and I always cry at the end.  Another favorite of mine is Stand In The Wind, which does not have her usual disabled character; it deals with the children of two families and some ruined summer plans.
  • I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who didn't like The Secret Garden.  Its mysteriousness, its spoiled brat protagonist, the dramatic denouement, all combine to make the perfect story.  If it gets a little sappy occasionally, who can blame Burnett?  That's most likely what her contemporary audience was looking for.
  • My children recently discovered that the movie The Parent Trap was based on a book, long out of print.  As a child, I read this book multiple times, so I was happy to buy a used copy for them.  If you've never read Lisa And Lottie, you'll enjoy this story of twins separated at birth.  Originally published in German in 1949, it's been adapted for film many times, twice in English.  (Side note:  The author, Erich Kastner, had many of his books burned by the Nazis, and effectively was banned from publishing any of his material throughout the time of the Third Reich).
  • The Velvet Room, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, is a book I've read countless times and has recently come back into print.  A Great Depression Era book, this novel was probably the first coming-of-age type story that I ever read.  Robin, the protagonist, is really the perfect character for a girl in her early teens to relate to as she reads.  Snyder writes about feelings very well, and manages to be emotional without being cloying.  Other books I've enjoyed by Snyder include Below the Root (fantasy) and The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case.
  • Most avid readers have heard of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and it's hard to find a reader who didn't like this unusual book.  E.L. Konigsberg writes here of every child's deepest and darkest wish -- to run away, but not just anywhere;  to run away to somewhere special.  In this case, it's the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the story's mood alternates from suspenseful, to humorous, to businesslike, all in a few chapters.  A prolific writer, Konigsberg has written some other excellent books (such as The View From Saturday) but because of certain poor choices in language I don't feel comfortable recommending them to a wider audience.
  • The Secret Language was the only book written by Ursula Nordstrom, who was for many years editor-in-chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row.  This book shows such a deep knowledge of how the minds of children operate that no reader can help but be moved.  The illustrations are also wonderful.
  • As a final pick, I'll mention the inimitable Encyclopedia Brown.  This series, by Donald Sobol, seems to have grown by several volumes since I last read it.  It's enjoyable even for adults to read the short mysteries and try to guess the solutions before turning to the back of the book where all is made clear.
  • I'd like to wish all my readers a sweet Jewish New Year, with good fortune, good health, and only happy occasions.  My next post should be some time after we've emerged from the holidays, and I hope I'll have read several noteworthy books by that time.

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