Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sticky Books

No, this does not mean that you can read while eating, though the connection between the satisfaction of reading a good book and eating something delicious is strong. Just as the delicious remnants of a sticky bun, cotton candy, or good barbecue sauce linger long after the last bite, a good book can stick with you for a long time to come. That is the idea behind sticky books--they are the ones that stick with you. Perhaps they are the books that you have to keep in your personal collection or that you feel compelled to re-read every so often. Perhaps they are the books that come to mind at odd times and shape your decisions as you wander through life.

The idea for this post came from the blog of my friend Jen. She is a mother, aspiring writer, great cook, a teacher of both my daughters and many other lucky students past and present, and generally an all-around amazing person. Check out her list, take a look at mine below, and then let me know what your sticky book list includes.

My list has three components: Books I read as a child that still have a place in my heart and mind, books written for children that I did not meet until I was an adult (yes, some of these are old enough that I should have read them years earlier), and books written for adults that I read as an adult. All of the lists are in no particular order.

BOOKS I READ AS A CHILD

The Singing Tree and The Good Master by Kate Seredy bring back such fond memories from my first forays into quality literature from other cultures. The illustrations are still fresh in my mind. They are always near the top of my list of favorite books even though I have not re-read them in many, many years.

Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne has been mentioned on this blog before. I recite the poems often--perhaps too often. The stories gain new insights every time I read them. I have fond memories of my children and my spouse laughing at antics of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and their friends.

Half Magic by Edward Eager is the book that got me started on a fantasy craze that lasted for most of my upper elementary years. It is creative, interesting, exciting, a little different, and the perfect introduction to fantasy that is not too fantastical but definitely fantastic. From here I moved on to the rest of the books by Eager as well as books by E. Nisbett, C. S. Lewis, and the myriad others that fill this genre.

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson may be one of my first chapter book excursions. It is the story of Ben Franklin as told by the mouse who lived in his hat. There are many others by Lawson that I devoured eagerly but this one is the best.

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater has so much to recommend it-- a goofy story with a little historical charm, great warm illustrations, and characters that stick to the ribs and the funny bone. I hope that kids keep reading this for generations to come.

Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey are two favorite picture books that still pull me in at the first page. The illustrations are amazing and the stories have the perfect charm. Now that I have been to Boston several times to visit my daughter, the depiction of Boston Commons is even more meaningful.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf may have influenced some of my beliefs in non-violence. Who knows? It certainly is a perfect story of peace, the truly important things in life, and adolescent rebellion of sorts. At least that is how I have always seen it. The illustrations are perfect and there are lines that are truly perfection. My favorite line comes early in the story when Ferdinand's mother worries about him because "she was an understanding mother, event though she was a cow." Somehow that always strikes me as funny and charming. Fun trivia fact: Munro Leaf's son James G. Leaf is a former head of Emerson School.

The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My by Tove Jansson is not an easy book to find. My copy, which was published in Helsinki in 1953, was given to me by Uncle Frank after he travelled to Scandinavia one summer. That connection is part of what makes it special. Also intriguing are the holes carefully cut in every page to offer tantalizing hints of what is to come. I only know one other person who knew this book as a child--Emerson kindergarten teacher Sigrid. No wonder I like Sig.

The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling are perfectly written. I heard a story once that Kipling stood in front of a mirror as he read these stories aloud, checking to make sure that not only did the words sound right but that his mouth looked right as he read. I don't know if this is true, but the language of these stories does come close to perfection. Don't summarize them. Read them aloud and relish every syllable, oh best beloveds.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg led me to many imagined adventures when I was young. I am sure that it did despite the fact that those imagined adventures came long before this book was published in 1968, when I was in my junior year of high school. At eight or ten, I imagined living in the most impressive store (in my mind at least) in Billings, Montana. This was a large furniture store, probably not nearly as large as I imagined it to be. It seemed to me--still does--that much of what happens to the kids in this book were just glorified examples of what I could have experienced had I ever gotten the chance to hide out in a giant furniture store.

BOOKS FOR CHILDREN THAT I READ AS AN ADULT (I am sure there are many missing here--and many more to be added as time goes by.)

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery is one I did not discover until I was already a mother of a two year old. There are good reasons why this continues to be a very popular series around the world.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Penne du Bois was written four years before I was born but I did not read it until I shared it with my own children more than 30 years later. It has humor, geography, history, and adventure. I never really appreciated Krakatoa until I read this book.

Ordinary Jack by Helen Cresswell is the first in the Bagthorpe Saga that had me laughing from the beginning of Jack to the end of the last in the series. I discovered this series in a listing of books for gifted children. The Bagthorpe children are all gifted--except for poor Jack who is always a little left out. The family is full of crazy characters and wild happenings. They are very British in their humor and style. I am sorry to report that they are currently out of print though Amazon has used copies from one cent.

The Warm Place by Nancy Farmer is the most gentle of the books by Nancy Farmer. It features a giraffe who is kidnapped from Africa to be taken to a zoo across the ocean and yearns to return to the warm place that is home. He has many amazing adventures along the way. Read everything you can get your hands on by Nancy Farmer. She will startle, astound, and stimulate your mind.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman and the rest of this trilogy are the most thoughtful and intriguing fantasy stories that I have ever read, generally even surpassing the works of Tolkein. My daughter got a pre-publication copy of this book when she accompanied a friend to Border's for Take Your Daughter to Work Day. (Coming to her own school with me was not that exciting for Geetha, so it made sense to go with a friend whose father did "something interesting".) The book, despite its cover with a huge polar bear on it, got stuck away on the shelf for a year or two. Then Geetha read it and was ready for the second book, which we both devoured with enthusiasm. Alas, the third book was not out yet and I was now as eager to find the end of the saga as she was. You, lucky you, do not have to wait to read all three in order.

The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke was suggested reading from a former science teacher at Emerson School. The premise is that the little soldiers that once belonged to the Bronte children in England (they wrote about these soldiers in the journals and some stories) are found by a new family after years of being stored away in the attic. The soldiers come alive just as they did for the Brontes. Now they want to return to the Bronte home but they want to do it on their own three-inch man power. This book got me more interested in the Brontes and in the wilds of the north of England.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis is the newest book on this list. Curtis never fails to capture the voice of a young boy in all of his novels, but this is the book that carries the most punch. If it does not make you think about slavery and racism, nothing will. It will also make you laugh at the typical boy antics of Elijah and cry at the hard lives folks have had to face.

A FEW ADULT BOOKS THAT STICK WITH ME

The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle is one of the best looks at two sides of a story that I have ever read. Told from the points of view of both the well-to-do homeowner in Southern California who must worry about the wildlife threatening his family and the man who has snuck up from Mexico and is living in the woods with that same wildlife, this story has both sides making good and just points. Neither can be labeled the bad guy nor the good guy. You will think long and hard about the issues that are presented here.

The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin is another book that looks at what is truth. When the narrator of this story, based on an actual occurrence in the author's life, gets contacted by the mother of a boy who is very ill, what can he do but reach out to help. Through many twists and turns the author and the reader are soon wondering whether the boy is really in need of help. It is a bizarre and intriguing story.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn has become the basis for a thesaurus lesson I use almost every year. The premise of the book is that as letters fall from the town's tower, the residents must stop using that letter. When we play our game, letters drop from my list and the kids must re-write a sentence they have written using the thesaurus and their creative minds to find good substitutes for the words that now must go. It is always good for a laugh.

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester got me thinking about words and dictionaries in new ways and with new respect. I enjoyed reading Winchester's The Professor and the Madman which was also about the OED, but this book has such detail that I have gone back to it often just to remember little tidbits about the work that was put into the creation of the most magnificent of dictionaries. I confess that there is a part of me that would love to be a lexicographer.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck got even better when I re-read it with my daughters as they studied it in English class. It has to be my favorite Steinbeck novel.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond was given to me by my daughter who suggests that it should be required reading for everyone. It has changed how I look at history.

That is the short list. I know that there are others. Now, tell me what would be on your list of sticky books.

3 comments:

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Wow... so how long have you had this??? I'm so excited!

SWE said...

The Singing Tree was one of my absolute favorites growing up! I went through a phase where I wanted to move to Hungary because of it.

Beauty by Robin McKinley. A retelling of the story of Beauty & the Beast. In my mind, it is the definitive version.

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater. I loved the story and read it a half-dozen times I think. It wasn't truly sticky until the summer I read it (and the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E.F.) to my brother. He thought novels were dumb before that, but not after. In my mind, that makes it the best. book. ever.

Anything and everything by Douglas Adams. I still have a sneaking feeling that the mice are in charge.

The Belgariad (a series) by David Eddings. My first introduction to fantasy, and it came from my favorite teacher in 7th grade. I love the characters and the stories. Not as keen on the follow-up series, or other things by the same author. Just these.

These are the ones that immediately stick out from childhood, along with the Little House and Anne of Green Gables series. I also loved the Mary Poppins books-she was so deliciously mean! By high school I was browsing for such things as Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham and The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Both freaked me out. I think that I disappeared into Michael Crichton for awhile after that.

My favorite of all time is the author Don Marquis, creator of Archy & Mehitabel. Oh, those marvelous characters! And his short stories are so rooted in their day that they have much more resonance for me than F Scott Fitzgerald ever did. My husband even took me to Marquis' birthplace as a gift our first Christmas together.

In college, my worldview radically shifted when I read Ecological Imperialism by Alfred Crosby. It predates Guns Germs & Steel by a good bit, but the idea is the same. I very much regret that this is the only book that stands out from my college career-there must have been something wrong with my education and the way I allocated my time. I've been catching up ever since!

I don't think my adult readings have had a chance to settle enough to meet the same stickiness test of my childhood favorites. Time will tell...

Linda said...

Jen, this is about a year old now. I started it to promote the school library but can't just write for the kidlets all the time. It has been fun and frustrating, but you know how that goes.

Yes, Heather, it is hard to top Daniel Pinkwater. He may be the funniest man on earth.

True confessions--I never liked the Little House books. I guess I knew that some day they would be labeled as not PC or some such thing.