Sunday, May 11, 2008

Weekly Geeks & Childhood Books

When I saw that Dewey's challenge this week was to talk about one of your favourite childhood books, I wasn't quite sure which to choose! There are so many books I have very fond memories of reading; I posted a list of five of my favourites, some time ago. So to choose more is difficult! But, since I love book lists and I have many other children's books to share, here is another list.

1. Emily of New Moon / L.M. Montgomery

It is the 100th year since the publication of Anne of Green Gables, and because I so love LM Montgomery, most of her books are favourites! But I'll choose this one, which my aunt gave me on my 12th birthday, and which influenced me greatly. Emily is an orphan (lots of those in LMM's work), who is sent to live with her two aunts, stern Elizabeth and meek and gentle Laura. Throughout the trilogy (Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest) we see her experiencing a difficult childhood as a gifted, imaginative girl who becomes a writer. Once again, LMM's genius at describing lonely, eccentric people stifled by small town conformity shines through! The characters of Emily, her family, and her 3 close friends are marvellous and I reread this one so very often.

2. This Can't be Happening at Macdonald Hall / Gordon Korman

This Canadian classic is the first book by this author, written when he was in Grade 7. Sigh. It's hilarious, and my sister and I read it to each other quite a few times as kids. We had it nearly memorized! It's full of the antic adventures of Bruno and Boots, residents of a boys school, "east of Toronto, just off Highway 48". Due to their misbehaviour they are assigned new roomates (both very odd), and there is also that girls school just across the highway... It is very, very funny.

3. The Ghosts who went to School / Judith Spearing

Wilbur and Mortimer Snodgrass just want to go to school. The problem is, they are Victorian ghosts. Finally they get their wish and attend the local school where Wilbur starts Grade 3, and Mortimer fulfills his dream of playing the glockenspiel in the school band. A charming read.

4. The Blueberry Pie Elf / Jane Thayer

Sadly out of print, this is a picture book which was read to me in the school library, sometime in elementary school. I fell in love with this shy little elf who loved blueberry pie. He was invisible so could not ask for blueberry, but ate whatever pie the lady of the house made -- and there were many, it is obvious this book is from the Era of the Housewife. The endpapers were great, all the pies displayed for viewing. Finally he cleverly traces out his request in cherry pie filling, and gets his wish, leaving behind a "Thank you" tracked in blueberry juice. Really cute, and it always reminded me of my Ukrainian grandmother, who made pies constantly. (as Brett Butt has joked, she was the kind of Ukrainian grandmother who would say, "Only 3 pies for dessert today, I was tired.")

5. Magic Elizabeth / Norma Kassirer

I loved, loved, loved this story about little Sally, having to go and stay with her old, dour Aunt Sarah in a big creaking old house. She sees a portrait of another Sally, in old-fashioned dress, who is holding a doll, Magic Elizabeth; she finds the doll in the attic, and travels in time to meet the girl in the portrait. The illustrations, simple pen sketches, are so charming, reminding me a bit of The Borrowers, with the little girls in long frocks and ribbons. I read this many, many times, and on rereading as an adult I feel the same way about it. I read it first at a cabin at the lake, and the copy belonged to the girl living there. Regretfully, I basically stole it from her, because I still have it 30 years later... oops. This inspired me so much that I rewrote the first chapter into my own story for the "Writing Club" I ran for a year when I was 13. My first run-in with plagiarism! :)

6. Tuck Everlasting / Natalie Babbitt

A simply exquisite book about the preciousness of our lives, day to day, and how death makes life worth living. It has romance, drama, poignancy, and I would recommend it to anyone, anytime. The recent movie did not capture the magic at all, so read the book and ignore the film!

7. Watership Down / Richard Adams

I could go on for a fairly long time on this theme, so I'll finish up with this one. This was the first book I ever bought for myself, in Grade 4 after I'd won a gift certificate in a reading challenge at school. The shop owner didn't seem to want to sell it to me; not sure if she thought I was too young, or what. But I persevered, and read it, and loved it, even if I didn't quite catch everything at that time. I've always liked the feeling of not quite understanding what I was reading, knowing there was something there I'd have to reach for, and might understand on the next reading. I did read this again a couple of times after that, the last time when in high school. I think it may just be time for a reread of this gorgeous story of rabbits seeking freedom in communal life, on the downs of England. I hope it holds up to memory!

And speaking of holding up to memory, there are a couple of books I really liked as a child, but had only misty memories of as an adult. I searched out two of these books over the past few years, which were, sadly, disappointments in the rereading.

The first, only slightly disappointing, was Mary Calhoun's The House of Thirty Cats. I recall being enchanted by this idea, but on reading it again as an adult, I am horrified at the squalor in which Miss Tabitha lives with her 30 cats, some indoor, some outdoor, none spayed or neutered and breeding madly. I'd have to say, as an adult, I side more with the neighbours and animal control officials who order her to get rid of most of them; Sarah, the heroine, was a little girl who found homes for them all. That part I still liked!

The second, which left me wondering how I'd so misread it, was Wilson Gage's Miss Osborne the Mop. I think what I loved about it was Jody, the little girl, whose glasses are magical and bring to life things looked at through them. She and her cousin Dill look at a chocolate cake in a magazine and then eat it -- the descriptions of food are great! But when they bring to life Miss Osborne, a mop, to clean up their secret hideout for them, the whole book turns into a paean to housecleaning!! AAAARGH! What kind of normal kids would spend their entire summer holiday, WITH magic glasses available, housecleaning?? As my husband can attest, there is almost nothing I dislike more than cleaning!

That's all, for the moment anyhow. This has been an enjoyable nostalgic Weekly Geeks. I'm looking forward to reading others' memories, too.


  1. The MacDonald Hall series were the best! And they are still good to reread. The best part was I introduced the books to my son, and he loved them as well.

  2. I also read and loved Tuck Everlasting, but I forgot to put it in my WG post this week. Thanks for reminding me!

  3. I have loved Emily of New Moon and Watership Down as well. Tuck Everlasting comes in third! Like you, I always enjoyed reading books slightly above my level of understanding, as a child. It was challenging and exciting.

  4. Thanks for mentioning such memorable books. I too have loved some of these! However, I still love Enid Blytons!

    Childhood Memories

  5. I loved the Gordon Korman books. They were hilarious. I think my brother first got them in one of the school bookclubs, but once I discovered them I devoured them, laughing my way hysterically through each one.

    I loved L.M. Montgomery too, and I think my favourite, that is still a lovely reread, is "The Blue Castle".

  6. Raidergirl - Korman's books are ones I always recommend for boys. They are such fun!

    Katherine & Jeane - isn't Tuck Everlasting wonderful! I've enjoyed Natalie Babbitt's other books, but none quite reach Tuck.

    Gautami - oh, yes, Blyton's "Adventure Series"! My sister and I loved those.

    Kerry - The Blue Castle is amazing. I can't limit myself when it comes to LMM!

  7. I'm catching up on posts I missed while moving cross-country, and loved this one (though I love your whole blog, and particularly adore getting recommendations for poetry and Canadian fiction.) I could go on and on about childhood favorites, and searching out ones I dimly remember can be so rewarding... or not. I've had the same experience often. Thanks for the smile today!


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