Tuesday, February 2, 2010

In which I 'fess up

When I was a kid I didn't read very many books at all. I was poor and lived in the middle of nowhere. The local library was 5kms away and, with 1 car and a whack of kids in tow, my mom didn't get a chance to take us there very often. The few book shelves we had at home were lined with Reader's Digest Condensed Books and several "A-B" volumes of encyclopedias that were free sample give-aways at the grocery store. It wasn't until I was in Grade 11 that an inspiring English teacher really showed me what it meant to get lost in a book. I haven't quite found my way out yet.

Back then, the not-yet grown-up me devoured Dickens, Bradbury, Huxley, Tolkien, Salinger and John Fowles. A few years later I found myself in the second year of an undergraduate degree. I registered for what I hoped would be an easy elective for an English major: Children's Literature. That class and its instructor, Stan Dragland, changed my life. First off, the course was not at all easy. The reading load was heavy and we were required to submit weekly written assignments in addition to weighty term papers. Over the course of the year my writing improved, my critical thinking skills sharpened and, for the first time in my life, I learned that children's literature is rich, diverse, and complex. Heaven forbid anyone call it a lesser literature in my presence. Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, E.B. White, T.H. White, Natalie Babbitt, Lewis Carroll, Patricia MacLachlan, Louise Fitzhugh and L.M. Montgomery were all on that syllabus. There's nothing diminutive about them.

Since taking that life-changing class, I have read, literally, thousands of children's and young adult books. I do, however, have a shame-faced confession to make.


I've never read The Wizard of Oz.

I've never read Pippi Longstocking.

Nor have I read Little House on the Prairie.

In fact, I've not read any Baum, Lindgren, or Wilder whatsoever. There are others too--gaping holes in my knowledge of the genre that has given me my livelihood. And so this year, I vow to read at least one work by the following:

Lloyd Alexander
Frank Baum
Kevin Crossley-Holland
Peter Dickinson
Ann Fine
Virginia Hamilton
Rumer Godden
Julius Lester
Astrid Lindgren
Tamora Pierce
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Would any of you like to suggest the best individual titles from any one of those authors to get me started? Alternatively, would you like to confess your dirty, secret lapses in reading? C'mon, you can do it. That's why the comment section is there.


  1. OH, I have LOTS of lapses in reading. I started and could. not. get into Little House - yawn. I really can't remember if I ever read any Baum or not. I read no Lloyd Alexander, and didn't read Tolkien until hafway through undergrad - I was emphatically not a fantasy reader. Worst of all might be not knowing Five Little Peppers, Mr. Popper's Penguins, The Phantom Tollbooth (shut up, I know), or Freddy the Pig.

    From Avi, I recommend True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Virginia Hamilton is big in folklore, I think I enjoyed her The People Could Fly, and Julius Lester I mostly know from his UNcle Remus, which are enjoyable.

    I loved Pippi as a kid, both the first one and the South Seas book.

    And Tamora Pierce, I didn't get into the Circle of Magic series, but did enjoy the Protector of the Small series, starting with First Test. (Be prepared to read a quartet, she always seems to write in 4s.)

  2. I read Baum as a child and didn't much like it, so I've never gone back. I read Virginia Hamilton as a T.A. and was underwhelmed. But I recommend The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think it may be the one Little House book I didn't read as a child, and I find it absolutely fascinating, mostly because of the weird libertarian overlay Rose Wilder Lane tries to throw over a story that can't quite bear the weight of her ideology.

  3. Don't feel guilty! I haven't read a lot of those titles either! And I only just began reading Pippi recently with my daughter, and then fell over backwards enjoying myself with it. There's nothing like having a kid to enjoy children's books for the first time ever.

  4. My school had a library. As well, my family loved to read and as a result I was given many books.
    I loved Baum as a child mostly for the illustrations in the editions my loving relatives gave me - very Art Deco. My granddaughter discovered Oz at around age four and demanded to hear every book in the series. As I read them to her I suffered horribly because of the turgid prose. The least repellent of them is, to my mind, Ozma of Oz.
    Guilty secrets? Lots, in both children's and adult 'literature'. Mostly sins of commission, though. The Bobbsey Twins, the whole series, for one. I read, and still read, uncritically if the plot or illustrations interests me. I adored Arthur Ransome's books. Also the Five Little Peppers.
    Books I couldn't finish? Tom Sawyer, for one.

  5. The Greengage Summer (Rumer Godden). Think you'll like it a lot.

  6. I've never read Baum either. The funny thing is that I've read all of Gregory Maguire's Oz books for adults, and I love them.

    And most of the people on your list I've never heard of. So I'd say you're doing pretty well, actually.

    Lapses in reading ... not so much. You know what? There are enough really great books that I could keep myself reading quite happily for the rest of my life without needing to trouble with books other people love and I don't, for whatever reason. I should know, because I've got 40 currently stacked on my bookcase and goodness only knows when I'm going to get to those, let alone all the should-reads.

  7. oh I LOVED Pippi as a child. I remember once reading a Pippi book in bed and laughing too loudly, hoping that my just arrived babysitter would hear me and know I was awake and come upstairs. But it really was funny.

    I tried reading it with MQ, who was not at interested. I enjoyed it, though. ;)

    Like Mary, I also loved the Bobbsy Twins. In fact, i think I have the whole series in a box in the attic. Maybe it's time to break them out.

  8. I haven't read any L.M. Montgomery's Anne books. I think I read Emily of New Moon but no others. I also couldn't get into Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was a kid although I loved the tv show. And I'm not sure if I've read any Pippi books, which I find shocking given that I adore her hairstyle and sock style.

  9. Hey Sue. Bruce here, posting from Madeira here (stomach flu has given me a break from travelling and a chance to catch up on your magnificent opus). Did you know that it's entirely possible to get a Masters Degree in English Lit and read not one word of George Eliot? Jane Austen? Really, it's a shame.

  10. Hey Sue. Cara here. I'm sure that Bruce didn't really mean to imply that he had to be sick to read your blog.

  11. Oh, Rumer Godden is one of my favorite authors. I second slouchy's suggestion of The Greengage Summer. Another Rumer Godden book that I quite love is The Peacock Spring. (Hmm...seems to be a pattern, what with the seasons.) Also An Episode of Sparrows.

    I have quite a few lapses. I've never read any L. M. Montgomery, for one. Plus several of those on your list.

  12. Baum is no good at all, but the least vile of the series is Tiktok of Oz, I think. It's weird.
    The Pippi books are loopy good fun, but Astrid Lindgren also wrote the Children of Noisy Village books which are very very charming.
    Rumer Godden's A Doll's House was the first tragic book I ever read, and it still is in my top ten sad books ever.


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